OCEAN CITY – Ocean City officials were questioned this week over the town’s off-season marketing approach while businesses are closing their doors during the winter months.
At the conclusion on Monday evening’s Mayor and City Council regular session, Tony Christ, spokesperson for Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice, came before the council to gauge opinion on whether they think Ocean City is a year-round resort.
“The reason I bring it up is because it has been very noticeable in the past couple of years to me that most of the directives and most of the spending by this group [Mayor and City Council] is to expand Ocean City into a year-round or out-of-season business location,” Christ said. “I think if you ask people who use us [Ocean City] overwhelmingly they would say ‘no’, they would say ‘it is more of a summer resort’ but I don’t know if the council, by its actions over 30 years, doesn’t seem to understand that.”
Christ pointed out some year-round businesses are closing their doors for the first time in years as an example of how Ocean City is losing business in the winter months.
“For the first time in 30 years, BJ’s [on the Water] is closed. They say it is because of renovations but I know for a fact their business is down, Layton’s [Family Restaurant on 16th Street] closed for the first time in 50 years, Fager’s has gone to reduced hours, and on and on. So, in context I think it is important to understand if Ocean City is a year-round resort,” Christ said, requesting each elected official weigh in.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas’s opinion is that Ocean City is a resort, despite what time of the year visitors come.
“The resort is for people who want to come down in the winter or in the summer, whenever they want to come down,” Pillas said. “For me, I think about [Ocean City] more as a six-month season because that is when all the money comes in. Certainly, if we feel like we can get some winter business with Winterfest of Lights or the new Performing Arts Center, I am certainly willing to spend the money there to advertise. It is about meeting the demand of the public.”
Councilman Brent Ashley, who has lived in Ocean City over 40 years, responded when he first moved to Ocean City he felt the resort was considered more of a year-round destination then it is now.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that our primary businesses are basically four to five months and anything past that is cream on top. Unfortunately, during the off-season there aren’t many businesses that can benefit, the smaller business people cannot stay open because it is not financially feasible. You are seeing that more now than in the past because a lot of the businesses are now across the bridge … and they are taking all the business from town over there,” Ashley said. “So, I think we are getting farther away from the year-round concept than where we were in the past.”
Mayor Rick Meehan asserted in his opinion Ocean City has developed into a year-round community compared to when he first moved to Ocean City as a full-time resident in 1971.
“There were maybe a few hundred people that lived in Ocean City [then] but as Ocean City developed condominiums were built, more people started to come here, those that vacationed here wanted to move here, residential communities developed and are now scattered around our town. Little Salisbury, Caine Woods, Montego Bay, and that began probably in the late 1970’s through the 1980s. With that came the advent of grocery stores and businesses,” the mayor said. “As more and more people came, hotels were being built that were more accommodating for longer stays to extend the season. That was an initiative brought forward by the business community, and the season expanded from Memorial Day to Labor Day to the beginning of May until the end of September, so the prime part of the season increased.”
Meehan furthered since Ocean City has developed into a year-round community there is year-round business to be conducted. Just in the past year a list of new businesses opened in Ocean City causing other businesses to re-evaluate whether it’s feasible to remain open all year.
“There were times that it seemed more businesses stayed open all year-round because there was less of them but now there is a lot more than there used to be. As a matter of fact, BJ’s is closing for renovations, by the way, and I think you will see those renovations when they re-open,” the mayor said. “There have been a lot of new businesses that have opened. Some are staying open year-round and others are re-evaluating because of competition or because they have grown.”
Meehan explained Ocean City entertains eight million visitors a year. Four million of those visitors come between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and the rest come in the other months of the year, he said.
“I think we are a year-round community. I think the residents that live here expect us and want businesses to be open so they can utilize them and enjoy them, I think those who come here on the weekends once we get past October … enjoy their time here, and the off-season events bring people to town,” the mayor concluded.
On Tuesday, Christ submitted, “Ocean City is a summer resort, not a year-round resort. It is my belief that you must know where you are to know where you are going.”