A calm, plain-spoken voice comes on the radio.
"We're here for you, the affected refugee," says Jim Mathias, the mayor of Ocean City, Md. "There is no shame in accepting help from a neighbor."
He is offering refuge from periodical cicadas in the hotels of Ocean City, where he hopes you will plunk down a few bucks on mini-golf. It's a paid advertisement, recorded Monday and soon to be broadcast on local radio stations.
First came the billions of bugs. Now comes the business opportunism.
Coming off years dominated by recession and terrorism and war, the emergence of the cicadas has created a rare opportunity for some local businesses. Now they can profit from a subject that has Washington buzzing, literally and figuratively.
T-shirts about the Washington sniper attacks: offensive. T-shirts about insects that emerge by the billions for a few weeks, only to disappear for another 17 years: a gold mine.
Ask Jolene Sugarbaker, a cross-dressing character played by local actor Jason Saffer who operates a Web site selling "Cicada Couture" T-shirts. Sugarbaker said yesterday that more than a thousand have been sold, at $19.99 each.
Or ask Dennis Ray, managing designer for Rockville-based Nature's Creations Inc. He issued a news release yesterday for "a first in the jewelry world, the Cicada Shell Pin." Ray said he thinks the leftover husks of the insects are oddly beautiful, or "wicked awesome," in his words. He began collecting them off the ground in Georgetown when they started emerging two weeks ago. He dips each in a copper coating, burnishes it to a greenish patina, attaches a pin and charges $36 a pop.
"Each one is different," he said in an interview yesterday. "They're surreal looking. It's a fantastic circle of life phenomenon."
Ray sold the first 20 he made within an hour at an exhibition on the West Coast. Now he's collecting cicada shells as fast as he can; once the emergence ends, so does his supply (200 are now complete).
The cicada isn't good for all businesses. Catering companies that throw big outdoor events and restaurants with outdoor patios have expressed wariness. But the bugs are fundamentally, as an Agriculture Department entomologist put it to Bloomberg News recently, "a non-economic species."
The media's fascination with cicadas is fueling those profiting from their appearance. Ocean City hotels had a tough spring last year, when it rained for much of May and June. Mathias is hoping the cicada pitch will help right things this year. And in case anyone in greater Washington or Baltimore misses the message, he was driving around yesterday delivering it for television news crews.
"We're on the way to do Channel 8 right now," he said via cell phone yesterday afternoon. "That and Channel 13 and Fox 45 in Baltimore."
Sugarbaker's T-shirt operation has been mentioned in The Washington Post and on local television news programs, a key driver of sales.
"There's a lot of bored reporters out there saying, 'What can we say about these stupid things?' " Sugarbaker said.
Others are profiting without such overt salesmanship, at least when they can keep cicada supplies in stock. Phil Tierney, who manages the Strosniders hardware store in Silver Spring, says he is sold out of nets to protect small trees from the cicadas, but about every 15 minutes someone comes in to ask for one anyway. Some people have tried using a sticky product designed to be painted around the tree's trunk to keep critters off.
"But they can fly," Tierney said. "You'd have to basically coat the whole tree."
It's not just small stores. The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Georgetown is making chocolate disks with the shape of a cicada molded onto them. (No cicadas were harmed in the making of these chocolates, general manager Jennifer Brown assures guests.) It started out as a lark, a pillow treat for out-of-town guests wondering why golf-ball-size insects were all over town.
Instead, after dozens of television appearances (Japanese crews have been particularly interested in the story) and newspaper mentions (this is the third in The Post), so many people want the chocolates that the hotel, which started making 160 a day, is now making 1,000 a day and selling them at $15 for a bag of 10.
"One lady called and ordered 200 for her wedding," Brown said. "A schoolteacher asked for 1,000 of them. The funny thing is, I've only seen one actual cicada so far."
J.W. "Bill" Marriott Jr., chairman of Ritz-Carlton parent company Marriott International Corp., praised the hotel's savvy publicity ploy at an event Monday night. But he told a crowd of reporters that he is mystified by what interests them.
"Just wait for my next publicity stunt," Colleen Evans, director of public relations for Ritz-Carlton hotels in Washington, said yesterday. "It'll involve snakeheads."