OCEAN CITY – The City Council turned down a Boardwalk musician’s plea to perform in front of a downtown restaurant that has warmly welcomed him, due to a law that provides for no exceptions.
In a letter addressed to the Mayor and City Council, Boardwalk performer Augustine DiGiovanna stated on June 27 while he was playing his steel drum on the Boardwalk on the fence line in front of the Mug and Mallet an Ocean City police supervisor informed him he was no longer allowed to play in that location due to restrictions placed on street performers.
He added that in the past with the permission and encouragement from the owner and staff of the Mug and Mallet he has played his steel drum on many occasions.
Ocean City has passed an ordinance placing regulations street performers must abide by while performing on the Boardwalk. The code includes designated areas, mainly street ends, the artists must perform in due to complaints received in the past caused by observers creating crowds that are intrusive to the traffic of the Boardwalk and surrounding businesses.
DiGiovanna said that he has never received any complaints from any surrounding businesses of the Mug and Mallet, including the Plim Plaza Hotel and the Ocean Gallery, nor does he collect crowds around him while he performs that would impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic. He provided the council with a long list of the benefits as well as a letter of support from the owner of the Mug and Mallet, Shannon Westlund.
“What I would like to do is be allowed to play my steel drum standing on the Boardwalk immediately in front of the fence at the Mug and Mallet restaurant,” DiGiovanna said. “The Mug and Mallet restaurant has allowed me to play there and it’s the only place on the Boardwalk where I can plug in to power my electronic equipment that I need to play.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas discussed different options with DiGiovanna in order to work out an area for him to perform without having to make an exception to the ordinance. She suggested him moving just a few feet away from the Mug and Mallet to the street end adjoining the restaurant, running an electric cord to the street end, or asking permission for him to join the Plim Plaza Hotel’s deck that is directly on top of the Mug and Mallet since the restaurant sits below the Boardwalk.
“In the past, we have encouraged street performers to go to the end of the streets so they don’t interfere,” she said. “So everybody can play nice up there between the merchants and the police force and everybody has a territory, and everybody can do business.”
None of her suggestions worked for DiGiovanna because the street end does not supply an electrical outlet in which he needs in order to perform. DiGiovanna said he asked many businesses along the Boardwalk, including the adjoining Plim Plaza Hotel and Ocean Gallery if he could connect to their electric outlets and they have all responded with a confident “no”, but Mug and Mallet enthusiastically has said “yes”.
“I don’t know why their answer was so definitive, I didn’t see any point in being confrontational or antagonistic,” he said.
Council President Jim Hall asserted that if the Mug and Mallet desired to have DiGiovanna perform to attract business to the restaurant then they would figure out a way, for example make room for him to play his drum within the property line.
“The Mug and Mallet may allow you to be out on the Boardwalk but it’s not their Boardwalk,” he said. “They could do away with one table and put a block there, that would solve the problem.”
Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out for DiGiovanna to entertain within the restaurant’s limits would create another issue with its liquor license.
“If you have entertainment, it has to be approved in conjunction with your liquor license if it’s on your property,” he said.
Councilman Lloyd Martin felt that if there is a business on the Boardwalk that invites a performer to perform in front of their establishment then there is no reason why the town should fight it.
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t approve this because you’re not blocking them, the business wants you there, you’re in need of their electric, and then it gives the opportunity for another street performer to be at that street end,” he said.
The conversation came to a standstill when the council looked to City Solicitor Guy Ayres for input. Ayres said there are no provisions within the city code to allow for exceptions.
“We would love you down there but get onto their property [Mug and Mallet] and you’re safe,” Jim Hall said. “If they want you there, they can make accommodations to get you on that property.”
DiGiovanna concluded by asking the council to take into consideration in the future to amend the ordinance concerning street performers and the locations their allowed to perform within.
“It seems to me to not allow businesses to have performers, like myself, if they want is counterproductive to what the ordinances are about,” he said. “I hope that you would revisit the idea that some businesses may want certain accommodations … there may not be any provisions in the ordinance now but I hope you would consider that there could be reasons where exceptions could be made.”