Boardwalk Tensions Run High Among Some Merchants

OCEAN CITY – Dan Troiano is trying to fight the good fight for the future of his business, and as it seems, he has more than just one opponent.

Troiano, who owns Dimensions on the Boardwalk and Lot 80 in mid-town Ocean City, came before City Council last week with a gripe about alleged false advertising on outdoor signage from some of his competitors in the body piercing business.

Troiano was dismissed on the grounds of Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith’s ruling that the phrase “body piercing jewelry” was not in violation of town code, even if the stores in question do not technically perform any piercing in the store other than the ear.

“A few years ago, I put the code in front of [then Ocean City Mayor Jim] Mathias, and he realized something was wrong with what they were doing and made the change”, said Troiano. “Now, they have gotten around it by simply saying ‘body piercing jewelry’, and in my business, everyone knows that that verbiage is just a loophole so you can put ‘piercing’ on your sign, because that’s the word people are looking for.”

Troiano’s main concern is the estimated $1,000 a day that he is losing in body piercing business, and in many cases, he says he watches potential customers walk right past his store after being “tricked” by the falsely advertised signs.

“Basically, they make them pay at one store, accept the money, and then tell them they have to walk to another store to get the piercing done,” said Troiano. “It’s totally unethical, and if you look at the code, it’s illegal.”

Troiano is referencing chapter 66-10 (c) of the code entitled off-premises signs, which clearly states, “all off premises signs, the same being signs advertising a product, service or business not located on the same premises as the sign are prohibited.”

City Solicitor Guy Ayres, however, agrees with Smith’s ruling and noted that if Troiano really wants to address the situation he needs to file an appeal of Smith’s apparent verbal ruling to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“I really don’t think that the town needs to get in the business of saying whether or not a sign is misleading or not,” said Ayres, “and I think he has 30 days from the date of the ruling to file an appeal with the BZA, which I don’t think he’s done yet.”

Body piercing has been a bit of a controversial topic or art form since 2000 when the health department laid down much more stringent guidelines for operations.  As a result, Troiano says that only five or six licensed body piercing establishments remain.

“Yes, most of piercing is profit, and it sets my year down here on the Boardwalk, because I couldn’t make my rent just selling the clothes in here,” said Troiano. “That’s why these guys are trying so hard to get me shut down because it would be a bigger piece of the pie for them.”

Troiano says that there is an ongoing feud with he and several of the middle-eastern owned companies who he alleges are the main culprits in falsely advertising their services in their shops.

Oddly enough, a few of them but most notably Cool Topics, Sunset Beachwear and The Stop are the others, has been a target for the town as being a large purveyor of salvia and its related paraphernalia.

Troiano says that a little healthy competition has turned into an unethical exchange of words and tactics in recent years, and in a few cases, it’s gotten physical.

“They send drunk people into my store and then call the cops to follow the drunks in here to see if I’ll pierce them,” said Troiano, who noted that any business who performs a piercing on an inebriated person can lose their license for 30 days. “It makes me angry, and I’m outnumbered down here, but all I want is to have them to have to take down those signs, and I can get on with just getting my part of the pie.”

Troiano, who is also known as “American Dan” on the boards, says that there is only a small minority of American-owned clothing stores on the Boardwalk. He said that there is even fewer that actually sells authentic and licensed clothing.

“These places wouldn’t survive on selling hermit crabs and little items if they didn’t steal logos and images, and bootleg merchandise,” said Troiano. “Take a look at the shirts in a lot of these stores, the majority of them bootleg. Those UFC Tapout shirts, they aren’t real.  Ed Hardy shirts, fake.  But, I’m not sure if you blame the customer who wants a cheap shirt or the merchant who just sees dollar signs and doesn’t care.”

Troiano says he could look past the bootlegging and other things on the Boardwalk if town officials would take his complaint seriously and try to fix what he calls a “very serious problem for the future of the town, not just his business.”

“They don’t care about this town, so of course there is a lack of ethics, and the American owners are having trouble competing because they wouldn’t sell the stuff that these guys choose to bring into this town”, said Troiano, “They brought salvia and hookas to Ocean City, and they don’t care, because this isn’t their town.  They go back to Florida in their Hummers in the winter while the people who live here are playing by the rules and fighting to survive. So, at this point, I’m more frustrated with the town because I’ve given them enough ammunition to do something, and they still haven’t done anything.”