Much, probably too much, has been said about Boardwalk safety this summer, and I set out last weekend to take a look for myself. I was hoping to get a clear perspective absent all the obviously politically-motivated machinations that have been blowing around of late.
I spent three hours, starting at 9:30 on Friday night, walking the Boardwalk, casually talking with business owners who didn’t want to be quoted, eavesdropping on visitor conversations while sitting on the benches, frequently dozens of retail stores and doing my part to boost some local sales. I started at the Inlet and went as far north as 12th Street, but spent most of the time between Wicomico and 9th streets.
Using last Friday night and a handful of other evenings spent on the Boardwalk with my family this summer serving as background, I have become extremely concerned about what the sketchy retail stores on the Boardwalk are doing for the town. This I believe needs to be a focal area of the town.
At no point during my evenings on the Boardwalk this summer, including last Friday’s late-night exploration, have I felt unsafe. There was no intimidation. There were no dangers readily apparent anywhere from what I could see and I was looking for them. I was not there at 2 in the morning, admittedly, but I’m nowhere but home at that time of night.
The goal of this little mission was to gauge public safety on the Boardwalk, but the concern that I ended up leaving with that night was the filth factor perpetuated by some of the Boardwalk retailers.
No Safety Concerns To Report
At no point during my trip to the Boardwalk did I feel unsafe in the least bit. The critics will simply say I’m sipping the tea of the optimists in town. Whatever the case, this is what I saw on Friday, Aug. 16. It does not represent the entire summer, but this late-30 something man never felt in danger or threatened and it was a crowded evening. In many ways, besides some visual changes, it felt like the same experience I had when I was a teenager growing up on the boards.
Besides last Friday, most of my Boardwalk excursions this summer have been post-beach day hours for a family Boardwalk buffet of burgers, dogs, pizza and ice cream. As a result of concerns raised over the socio-economic clientele in Ocean City this summer, I paid careful attention to people who were also frequently the Boardwalk. Unwilling to pass immediate judgments based on style of dress, language or conduct, the fact is people are different and not everyone shares the same standards. That’s the case everywhere.
On Friday night, I went to the Boardwalk armed with the most recent data illustrating where incidents have taken place of late. Besides noticing more police in those areas, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
What I found a bit unique was the convergence of several large groups of young people hanging out in various spots along the sea wall in some areas and on the side streets in others. However, what I observed did not scare me, but it surely did not look like they were doing much to support our economy in most cases.
On several occasions, there were groups of people walking on the Boardwalk rowdier than others. They seemed under the influence of something and some of them were simply bouncing from bar to bar and enjoying themselves. They seemed to pose more dangers to themselves than anyone else. In nearly every situation I witnessed, they kept to themselves and just enjoyed the scene.
The most disturbing thing I noticed was a group of 10 to 12 teenaged boys whistling and hollering unpleasant advances at a pack of similarly aged girls walking by. The boys were completely out of line. The groups exchanged looks and unpleasant hand gestures. Some inappropriate behavior for sure that was seen by several families strolling by. However, about 30 minutes later, the same groups of boys and girls, numbering about 25 by then, were seen walking down Wicomico Street together.
On this particular evening, I did not see safety concerns. I saw a high-profile police presence and mostly families wrapping up their nights. It was uneventful.
Retail Landscape Is True Problem
In my opinion, the worst part of the Boardwalk is the unsightly appearance of about 15 retail stores that I counted. There are specific blocks on the Boardwalk that look trashy and clearly the merchants and the property owners do not care. This gives the town a black eye in my mind. That’s a major problem and contributes mightily to what some may perceive as the degradation of Ocean City, specifically its Boardwalk.
When I was young growing up on the Boardwalk, there were always certain blocks that my friends and I never hung out on, largely due to the stores that were located there. Even as young teens, it was recognized at that time the element there was not comfortable. That’s only been exacerbated over the years as cultural changes have taken root and more stores of disturbing ethics have taken root.
On one occasion, I watched a group of early-20 men walk into a store, snap photos of themselves with the obscene shirts and then purchase several knives. It’s these same stores that were basically “head shops” selling drug paraphernalia as recent as two years ago before the town enacted bans on Salvia and similar substances. After the group left the store, they headed north and I lost sight of them. No, I was not willing to follow them.
Cleaning up these blocks will help Ocean City a lot, but it’s going to be a major challenge that requires the cooperation of the landlords, who must demonstrate pride in their town. Many landlords are specific in their criteria for tenants, but some are not. It’s obvious who is and who is not.