OCEAN CITY – Issues surrounding Somerset Street continued at Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting as merchants and members of the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) came forward to voice their opinions.
Al Wendling, owner of Pop’s Joke Shop, spoke on behalf of the businesses on Somerset Street two weeks ago, voicing concern over the decrease in business along Somerset Street with specific reference to dissatisfaction with the merchant carts. Wendling appeared before the council again this week to reiterate those concerns.
Last year, the OCDC and Mayor and Council put their heads together to try and find solutions that would bring more viable business to Somerset Street and to the entire downtown area.
The decision was made to bring free Thursday night entertainment to Somerset Street. The entertainment ranges from tribute performance artists to classic cars to events such as the Crab Cook-off and the OC Art Show.
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 do not sell.
The trolley was also routed to stop at Somerset Street in hopes that it would bring people to the street and make up for the loss of parking.
Many people feel that the OCDC has made wonderful efforts to revive the downtown area, particularly Somerset Street. Events such as the Crab Cook-off and the OC Art Show have been beneficial to the downtown area and the merchants along Somerset Street.
Unfortunately, not all of OCDC’s efforts have been met with applause from everyone. The Somerset Street merchants have been vocal as of late about their dissatisfaction with the merchant carts that have set up camp in front of their businesses.
Wendling told the council a few weeks ago that the carts were blocking the stores, selling similar merchandise, and resulting in decreased business for the business owners on Somerset Street. Wendling presented a petition, signed by all the businesses on the street, requesting that the merchant carts be removed.
Wendling appeared before the council again this week in what he called, “a last effort from the merchants before the holiday in reference to the carts on Somerset Street.”
Wendling told the council that the carts were selling the same items as the stores after it had been agreed that they would sell different items such as crafts, food, and antiques.
“The carts are now in a situation where they block the stores, they are blocking the street, and they distract from the stores,” Wendling said.
Wendling went on to inform the Mayor and Council that the sales had decreased as a result of the merchant carts.
“In the process of helping us, you’ve hurt us,” Wendling said.
OCDC leaders Greg Shockley Todd Ferrante, and Executive Director Glenn Irwin came before the Mayor and Council to speak on behalf of OCDC at this week’s meeting.
“This is a pilot program and we’re having some growing pains with the program,” Shockley said.
Shockley added that the OCDC is working daily to address the Somerset Street concerns.
“We hope you have some patience and continue to work with us as we go through the growing pains of the cart program on Somerset Street,” Shockley said.
Ferrante said that the goal was to mirror the mall concept. He explained that mall kiosks had been successful in bringing more overall business to malls and hoped that the merchant carts would act in the same manner.
“Our intention was to attract people off the Boardwalk and have them come down and create commerce on Somerset Street, not take away from businesses,” he said.
Irwin added that the goal was to increase overall activity in the downtown area. Irwin visits Somerset Street daily in an effort to work out the kinks of the new cart program. He acknowledged the concern that the street looks closed when the carts close and presented a solution. Irwin suggested that the merchant carts move to the corner by the dumpsters at the end of the night.
Mayor Rick Meehan applauded the OCDC for its effort, time, and money spent on the area. Meehan said the long-term goal with all initiatives has been to bring more people to the downtown area
“We have a long-term commitment to downtown. The town of Ocean City and OCDC have put a lot of time and a lot of money into this street,” Meehan said.
Although the merchants are of concern, Meehan said his support was with the OCDC and all of their efforts.
“This is bigger than just the store owners on Somerset Street,” he said. “This is a plan for downtown Ocean City.”
Councilman Jim Hall agreed that the overall goal of the cart program is to bring more people to the area.
“Despite maybe the first couple weeks that have been a little bumpy, more people are going to travel down that road,” he said.
With the full support of the council, the cart program on Somerset Street will continue with a review of the pilot program at the end of the year.