OCEAN CITY – The ongoing debate over Somerset Street continued this week as businesses on the street voiced their concerns and dissatisfaction with their current situation.
Al Wendling, owner of Pop’s Joke Shop, said he was speaking on behalf of the businesses on Somerset Street this week as he addressed the issues of decreasing business, merchant carts on the street, and attempts to revive the street.
According to Wendling, last year the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) and the businesses of Somerset Street put their heads together to try and find solutions that would bring more viable business to the downtown street that has faced a decrease in business since a loss of parking several years ago.
The hope was to create an atmosphere in the street similar to that of Mallory Square in Key West, Fla., which provides street performers and handmade items and is overall a “gala attraction that draws people to the area.” Wendling said everyone’s goal was to bring more people to Somerset Street.
The decision was made to bring free Thursday night entertainment to Somerset Street, which includes performances such as tributes to Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart and The Beatles. OC Cruzers, or custom cars, were also brought to the street as an attraction. Events such as the Crab Cook-off and the Ocean City Art Show were moved to the street to attract more people.
According to Wendling, the decision was made to allow street carts to sell items, using the money made from the business permits to pay for the new entertainment on the street. The carts were to sell handmade items, antiques, basically anything that the current businesses on the street don’t sell.
This year Wendling is more than dissatisfied with the situation with the carts, saying that he is not the only business on the street that wants them gone.
“It is hurting our business instead of helping our business,” he said.
He said the carts are selling the same merchandise as the shops, the carts are blocking the shops and when the cars close for the day, it makes the entire street look closed.
“Just let us alone and let us try and make it on our own,” he said.
Wendling did, however, say that some of the entertainment has been beneficial to the street. He noted the good crowds that the crab cook-off brings to the street and the success of the event.
Wendling came before the City Council at Monday night’s meeting in hopes of relaying some of the concerns of the businesses on the street, bringing with him a petition signed by all of the business owners. After expressing the problems that he was having, Greg Shockley, the new president of the OCDC, tried to assure Wendling that the situation would improve.
“The carts have only been out a week,” Shockley said. “I think it can be resolved with some cooperation by both parties.”
Councilman Jim Hall agreed with Shockley, saying, “I think we can work this [cart] thing out.”
Councilman Joseph Mitrecic asked, “Is anyone taking charge in making sure the carts are in their proper location?”
Shockley said that he thinks that the situation will be resolved and that the carts’ location and merchandise will be better monitored.
Wendling said he was disappointed that his petition was not taken more seriously. He said that he knows the OCDC means well but a better solution must be reached.
“If we don’t make money we’re not going to be there,” he said.