Operators Hope For Best With Bridge Closure

OCEAN CITY — With yesterday’s Route 90 bridge closing, both midtown and uptown Ocean City businesses are now preparing for what one owner called “the 90-day hurricane.”

As drivers reroute their path into Ocean City for the next two months after yesterday’s Route 90 bridge closing for a massive structural repair, businesses owners who overcame the poor economy, sub-par start to the summer season, and lackluster finish are readying their establishments for the new challenge of getting customers to travel well out of their way for their products.

“We are just going to batten down the hatches, stay open, power through this thing and hope for the best,” said Liquid Assets owner John Trader. “It’s going to be like a 90-day hurricane, so we have to hold on, keep our business running the same way, and hope that when this bridge opens back up, people will be really eager to come see us again.”

Despite there being three ways into the city limits of Ocean City from the west (Routes 50, 90 and 54), the growing populations that live off the island may be less likely to drive much longer distances to visit their favorite establishments while the bridge is closed.

For businesses that rely on in-town clientele, they are less worried about the effects of the bridge closure.

“We are probably in a better spot that some other folks in midtown or north Ocean City because we have a really great winter following and a very loyal clientele from our neighbors in Montego Bay,” said Matt LaPrad, bar manager at Duffy’s Tavern. “Being this far north [130th street], we will probably be able to catch some people coming into town from Route 54, too.”

Still with the resort’s second season in full swing, and a modest winter season being projected amongst the local business community, these next two months are certainly vital to the shrinking number of businesses who stay open seven days a week all winter long.

“We are just hoping that it’s shorter than what they say that it’s going to be,” said Pino Tomasello, owner of Fresco’s. “It is bad enough to get through the winter in Ocean City every year, but especially this year with the economy, and now the bridge is closing for months, so we are hoping for the best and hoping people will still come to see us for our winter specials.”

Some in the restaurant business are hinting that what may become a trend in the midtown areas of Ocean City is new and strategic food or drink specials that would try to encourage diners to make the trip, while others think that the closing of the bridge is just going to make businesses start closing for the season.

“I really think it’s going to effect businesses from like 40th Street all the way up to 85th the most,” said BJ’s on the Water Manager Marco Brodoway. “[New specials] might happen, but to be honest with you, I think that a lot of people are just going to cut back the hours that they are open if business starts to really get slow.”

As restaurants prepare for the slow season ahead, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) awarded the job to replace the damaged 85-foot section of the Route 90 Bridge spanning over Assawoman Bay on Monday.

The $1.1 million emergency maintenance contract was awarded to McLean Contracting, Co. of Glen Burnie, Md. and High Steel Structures, Inc. of Lancaster, Pa. Over the next two months, the crews will remove one 85-foot section of the Route 90 Bridge over the navigational channel, fabricate and set new steel replacement beams, pour a new concrete bridge deck on the newly placed beams, re-stripe the new pavement, and install new raised pavement markers, according to the SHA.

Despite the inconvenience and the concern the bridge closing has created for motorists, residents and for business owners, the general consensus throughout the area is that if it had to happen, there’s no better time than now.

“Unfortunately, a lot of infrastructure in this country is in disrepair and I’m actually more concerned about it staying open than I am about it closing,” said Trader. “Everyone is going to try to stay positive and be thankful that this didn’t happen in the summer, and that there were no major catastrophes.”

Manager Albert Levy from the Crab Bag on 130th Street agreed with Trader’s thoughts that the bridge being fixed is a bigger worry than its closure.

“We know that there’s nothing we can do about it, and there’s really nothing that you can do to prepare for it,” said Levy. “It is what it is, and we just hope that people are willing to drive a little bit farther for our great product and great service. We are going to stay open seven days a week and we’ll see what happens, but if there’s no business, I think you are going to see a lot more people on unemployment in this town.”

Yet, this isn’t the first time that either bridge coming into Ocean City has been shut down for an extended period of time, and there are some seasoned veterans of the business community in Ocean City who seem to think that this most recent closure won’t be a proverbial backbreaker.

“It’s never been a catastrophe before when the bridge closed, and I don’t see there being one this fall,” said LaPrad, “but I will say that I fear how slow this winter is going to be way more than I am fearing what business we may lose because of the bridge being closed.’’

Trader said that any business that stays open in Ocean City in the winter knows just how tough it is to get people in the door, regardless of whether the bridge is open.

“The off-season in Ocean City is not for the faint of heart, and I guess this is just another test for us”, he said.