Annie Zoitke of Commack was one of the hundreds who...

Annie Zoitke of Commack was one of the hundreds who gathered for the 50th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Montauk, the second-largest parade in New York, on March 25, 2012. Credit: Randee Daddona

Attendance was down for Sunday's St. Patrick's Day parade in Montauk, and that's exactly what organizers want -- for now.

For the first time in its 50-year history, parade organizers moved the start time to 10 a.m., three hours earlier than it had been held.

The earlier start was designed to cut down on instances of drunkenness and rowdiness by young revelers.

"Unfortunately, that's what comes with the parade," East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said Sunday.

Joseph Bloecker, president of The Montauk Friends of Erin, the parade's organizers, said about 20,000 people showed up. That was about 60 percent of the usual recent turnout.

"It started out as a family parade until several years ago," Town police Chief Edward V. Ecker Jr. said. "Several years ago, it was taken over by kids taking the Long Island Rail Road."

Brian Lindenberg, 39, of Ridge, has come to the parade for six years with his wife and three daughters, ages 6, 11 and 12. Like many other people planning to watch, the Lindenbergs pitched a tent and tailgated along Edgemere Street to get a prime viewing spot.

"Not loving the early start time, but we wouldn't miss it for anything," Lindenberg said.

Organizers frustrated by past R-rated antics would like to see it become more PG.

"If you look up and down the block now, it's all families," Bloecker said. "We hope to bring the crowd to 50,000 families."

Joe Titus, owner of Montauk Corner Store on Main Street, said he's had his share of incidents on parade day in the past 20 years, ranging from attempts to steal merchandise to roughhousing that was "just out of control."

Elizabeth Vespe, 16, of Montauk, came with a friend. Both said the people-watching in the past, especially bad behavior, was part of the fun.

"It's not as good as last year," Vespe said. "It's too early."

Still, her friend, Sadie Walker, 15, said, "It's like Mardi Gras for Montauk."

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