Proceeds from this year’s event will be donated to the Chief Petty Officers Association — which, in turn, will help out Coast Guard personnel affected by the federal government shutdown.
The event began Thursday and runs through Sunday. The stand will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.
As has been the case in recent years, the stand was opened to local residents late Thursday morning after the inaugural Pronto Pup is sold to Grand Haven resident Betty Feldt. Feldt, 88, whose husband used to work with Pronto Pup owner Carl Nelson, said she’s been a regular customer since Nelson took over his father’s business.
Feldt said she and her late brother, Tony Marecek, were almost daily customers after a routine drive by the beach in the summer.
When Nelson started opening up the stand for a winter weekend about 13 years ago, Feldt has always been one of the first in line.
Nelson started opening the stand earlier on Thursdays so Feldt and other residents who can’t stand in the long lines have a chance to get their treat.
“Basically, we open on Thursday for the locals,” Nelson said as a small group of people started to gather in front of the stand.
The Thursday opening was a welcome surprise for some people driving by late that morning.
“This is the best thing ever,” said Beth Pool. “My kids will be so excited.”
Pool ordered several extra-battered hot dogs on a stick to take home.
Pool has a terminally ill daughter who loves the Pronto Pups.
“This is the best thing for her,” she smiled.
Mary Rivera just moved back to Spring Lake after being gone for more than 55 years.
“I just came from Muskegon and decided to go to the beach,” she said. “I saw this was open.”
Rivera said she remembers watching people eating the Pronto Pups when she was a child, but never having money on hand to buy one herself.
Her family moved out of the area when she was still a child. Having the Pronto Pup stand open in January was a great welcome back, she said.
“I’m so excited, I’m shaking,”Rivera said as Nelson handed her ketchup- and mustard-covered Pronto Pups through the stand’s window.
Nelson and his wife, Nancy, took advantage of a small break in the traffic to visit with their daughter, Jaclyn Gettings, and their first grandchild, 14-month-old Clayton.
“I’m going to retire when he’s old enough to work,” Nelson said.
The owner also said he liked opening on Thursday without advertising it. That gives him a chance to work into the weekend slowly and to spend some time talking to the customers.
“This is the fun time,” Nancy said of the Winter Weekend.
Nelson said he expects the lines to start growing as the word gets around that they are open. The waiting time shouldn’t be so bad with temperatures in the 20s and 30s for the first couple of days, he said.
“You can only cook the hot dogs so fast,” Nelson said. “If I opened a bigger building with more fryers, it just wouldn’t be the same.”
Longtime friend Roger Hill agreed.
“When you watch areas change, It’s always good to come by and see some things still remain the same,” he said.
Nelson has stipulated that the funds donated to the Chief Petty Officers Association have to be used to help Coast Guard personnel in the Grand Haven area only.
He said the money raised during the annual fundraisers average between $3,000 and $3,400, depending on the weather.