WEST OCEAN CITY – Businesses in West Ocean City could be strongly affected by the 35-day closure of the Route 50 bridge this winter for drawbridge repairs, local business people fear.
“I think I should probably close for five weeks,” said Renee Kelly, marketing and promotions manager for Ocean City Factory Outlets. “I think it’ll be devastating to the retail market. … We get a lot of bus groups in the wintertime, but they stay in town. If they can’t come over the bridge, they’re going to go to the Rehoboth outlets. They’re not going to go all the way around.”
It was revealed at last week’s County Commissioner meeting the State Highway Administration (SHA) is planning to close the Route 50 bridge for drawbridge repairs from Jan. 15, 2008-Feb. 19, 2008. The project is contingent upon funding, but SHA said last week it will either be done early next year or in early 2009.
Route 50 Carryout owner Steve Ladd said his Wine Rack store would feel the effect of the closure.
“It won’t help, that’s for sure,” said Ladd.
At Superfresh, a manager who wished to remain anonymous reported the impact of not having Ocean City residents shopping could be huge on her store.
“We get a lot of business from over the bridge. I feel it will hurt us,” said the manager.
Francis Scott Key Motel owner Annemarie Dickerson said there would be obvious effects from the bridge closure.
“Obviously it’s going to have an impact on us,” said Dickerson. “It’s one we’re going to have to schedule around.”
Local business will ensure that the 35-day bridge closure is not a complete loss, according to the business people reached this week.
“The only good thing in our favor is that the residential community has increased so much in the last few years,” said Kelly.
Ladd added, “A lot of our business comes from the West Ocean City area, but it’ll kill the weekend tourist business as there’ll be no one coming out that way on the bridge. Business probably doubles on the weekends compared to what it is on the week.”
The anonymous Superfresh manager added, “I don’t think they’d take a round trip to get to this plaza.”
A lot of the Route 50 Superfresh’s business, around 20 percent, comes from Ocean City, the manager reported.
“Our sales have been up. Now it’s going to put a damper on that,” he said.
But, said the manager, the store’s customer base is loyal and the downswing should be temporary.
If the project is not brought forward to the beginning of January, said Dickerson, her business could take a serious blow. Every year the Francis Scott Key houses a large group for a convention during the timeframe of the proposed bridge repairs.
“They’re not going to want to use Route 90 to get to the Convention Center,” Dickerson said. “I think we’ll definitely lose some groups because of it.”
Tourists staying at the motel in the winter will probably not be much affected, Dickerson said. Most of those visitors come just to get away, not to visit the Boardwalk. They tend to eat in West Ocean City, swim at the motel’s indoor pool and visit Assateague Island, not Ocean City, the hotelier said.
Most are philosophical about the necessity for the repairs to the drawbridge gears and beams.
“That’s life. That’s the way it’s going to be,” Ladd said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. The bridge is old and needs maintenance.”
“It is what it is,” said Dickerson.
Ladd added, “We’re just going to have to live with it.”
Dickerson said she would rather have the repair work done as planned this winter than have the bridge fail in July.
“I’m going to have to go with January,” she said, adding, “It could be devastating to happen to my business in summer.”
If the drawbridge repairs were allowed to wait a few years, the bridge could get stuck in an upright position in the summer, a far more serious blow to local businesses.
“I’ve come to terms with it. I’m satisfied they’re doing it in the best time frame they can,” said Dickerson. “I just hope that whatever repairs they do are a good fix and it’s going to give us some life in that bridge.”