Boardwalk Merchants Split On Proposed Summer Fireworks Start Time

OCEAN CITY- When it comes to deciding the best time to start the summer fireworks shows in Ocean City, it appears the Boardwalk business community is just as split as the town’s elected officials and staff members were when the issue was broached a month ago.

During a larger debate on value-added special events in February, it came to light not all were in favor of the traditional 10 p.m. start time for fireworks on Monday and Tuesday nights throughout the summer. While most agree the value-added special events are successful in enhancing the visitor experience in Ocean City, some Boardwalk merchants voiced concern last month the 10 p.m. start time occurs right in the middle of the busiest time of the night in the summer to the detriment of the bottom line.

Some advocated moving the fireworks to 11 p.m. to keep business flowing on the Boardwalk and provide a type of crescendo on the typical summer evening. Others said 11 p.m. was too late for many families with children and advocated keeping the start time at 10 p.m. The debate began at the Tourism Commission level and spilled over the next day to the Mayor and Council meeting.

Out of the debate, a compromise start time of 10:30 p.m. was proposed although no firm action was taken. Instead, the Mayor and Council wanted the input of the Boardwalk business community before making any decision. To that end, it tasked the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) and its Boardwalk Committee to poll Boardwalk business owners for their preference on the start time.

The OCDC last month sent out the survey to 96 Boardwalk business and property owners and the results were as varied as the original opinions expressed last month. Of the 96 surveys sent out, 14 favored the 10 p.m. start time and 14 preferred moving the fireworks to 11 p.m. Four expressed a desire for the compromise 10:30 p.m. start time and two said they had no preference. According to the language in the survey, the Boardwalk merchants and property owners were asked to weigh in on one of the three options.

“As you may be aware, the town of Ocean City is discussing the proper time to shoot off fireworks on the beach on Monday and Tuesday nights during the summer months,” the questionnaire reads. “Last summer, these fireworks went off at 10 p.m. Several Boardwalk merchants have expressed concern that a 10 p.m. fireworks show interferes with their evening sales and would like a later time. Others have expressed concern an 11 p.m. fireworks start time is too late in the evening with families with young children.”

After collecting the survey and reviewing the results, the OCDC is advocating for the 10:30 p.m. compromise start time.

“The OCDC Board recommends the fireworks show to begin at 10:30 p.m.,” the OCDC recommendation reads. “It believes this is a good compromise for the Boardwalk merchants so they can enjoy a longer time for retail activity but also not too late to ensure families with young children are not deterred in staying for the fireworks show.”

The identities of the Boardwalk merchants and property owners who participated in the survey were left anonymous, but clearly there was an even split on the issue for most.

“Although it really does not impact me whatever time the fireworks show is, I think 10:30 p.m. is a good compromise,” one commenter said. “If I had retail, I would probably be upset if everyone left my store when the show started. In the restaurant, most diners have finished by 10 p.m. and they return after the show to purchase carryout items.”

Another business owner who favored the compromise said the visitors must be considered in the decision.

“My vote would be for 10:30 p.m.,” the comment reads. “This is a compromise for business owners and the visitors that are the main reason that we are promoting this event as added value.”

The same commenter said moving the fireworks to 11 p.m. would appease the business community, but maybe at the expense of the visitors.

“If the business community wants to have it all, they will vote for 11 p.m.,” the comment reads. “However, we have to consider the families and children that can’t stay that late. My fear is at 11 p.m., we will have a much smaller audience and that setting off the fireworks at that hour will make a less significant impact on the vacationers that we have intended for them.

Another Boardwalk merchant agreed the proposed 10:30 p.m. start time represented a good middle ground for all involved.

“If we can make a compromise this year to start at 10:30 p.m. and get a response to see how much it impacted the business community, then next year we need to decide if it is even worth contracting for the fireworks based on the crowd size at 10:30 p.m.,” the comment reads. “We should also do a survey of our visitors to see how important the fireworks are to them.”

Among the response collected in the OCDC survey, there was a fair representation of those who preferred maintaining the current 10 p.m. start time or even moving the fireworks up earlier.

“I feel we have to give consideration to those guests staying in Boardwalk hotels,” one comment read. “I think 10 p.m. is late enough and any later starts to interfere with children’s bedtimes.”

Another commenter advocated pushing the start time earlier so visitors could return to shopping and enjoying the Boardwalk afterwards.

“Start them earlier than 10 p.m.,” the comment reads. “Maybe right after dusk. This will allow time to shop after the fireworks before leaving the Boardwalk.”

Another commenter urged Ocean City to follow the lead of perhaps the most successful vacation and entertainment destination.

“My attitude on fireworks and entertainment is to do whatever Disney World does,” the comment reads. “They do it right, and in the summer months, they do their illuminations and fireworks at 9 p.m. in order for families to enjoy and stay out a little longer in their park. They have done it this way for years because they know what works. I know 9 p.m. is not on the list, but it is my choice.”

Throughout the debate in February, first at the Tourism Commission level and later with the Mayor and Council, there were many who advocated for a later start time in an attempt to avoid business disruptions in the heart of a summer evening.

“People always leave the store after the first fireworks,” one comment reads. “At the south end of the Boardwalk, I have definitely experienced a loss of business during and after light shows and fireworks displays.”

The same commenter pushed for an 11 p.m. start time for the summer fireworks.

“I am in favor of having these performances at 11 p.m.,” the comment reads. “Families on vacation tend to stay out longer than normal, even those with children. I feel they look at the fireworks and laser light shows as a signal that everything at the Boardwalk is closing so they immediately leave after the shows.”

Yet another commenter advocated for the 11 p.m. start time for the weekly fireworks displays, but urged city leaders whatever time was ultimately chosen, to ensure they start on time as advertised and anticipated.

“Eleven o’clock is the best time for Boardwalk fireworks, but whatever time is decided, please make sure it is on time,” the comment reads. “Early fireworks just kill the night rush for all businesses. I would say 80 percent of the fireworks last summer went off way before 10 p.m. They are always early and hurt the businesses, not that anyone cares about the businesses but just letting you know.”

The same business owner thanked the Mayor and Council and the OCDC for polling the Boardwalk merchants for their opinion on fireworks start time issue.

“Thanks for taking the time to actually ask our feelings,” the comment read. “It is important that finally Boardwalk merchants can express their voice.”

Another Boardwalk merchant expressed concern the current 10 p.m. start time drew people away from many businesses on the Boardwalk at a critical time in the evening and urged the Mayor and Council to consider the later start time.

“Due to many factors such as the state of the economy, it is more difficult year after year to maintain constant revenue to pay the high cost of leasing space, employees, licenses, stock and numerous other overhead expenses,” the comment reads. “Our customers are normally spur of the moment. They walk the Boardwalk and browse and shop.”

The same commenter agreed with many that retail stores tend to clear out when the fireworks displays begin, while the restaurants and food and beverage businesses tend to stay busy throughout the shows.

“When the fireworks begin, many potential customers head to the fireworks show,” the comment reads. “Sometimes, even the customers who are waiting in line next to have their photos taken leave, saying they will return, but never return.”

The same merchant responded the fireworks displays achieve the desired result of drawing people to the Boardwalk on the midweek summer nights and providing them with a free, added value amenity, but expressed a desire to have the fireworks show later in the evening as a form of closure on a summer night.

“I think the fireworks are a great way to bring in more tourists to Ocean City,” the comment reads. “Perhaps the fireworks can be an Ocean City finale, an ending of a great day in Ocean City. We are, of course, open until midnight, but we could gain one or two more hours of solid business before the fireworks stir them away.”

The Boardwalk merchant favored a move to an 11 p.m. start time for the fireworks because of the migration of potential customers to the beach when the shows start at 10 p.m.

“If you were to watch the Boardwalk at the beginning of the fireworks, you would see the migration of the tourists moving toward the source of the fireworks,” the comment reads. “Can they see the fireworks from outside our store? The sure can, but most people want to have it on front stage of their viewing. Since the fireworks began, I have noticed a decline in revenue during the fireworks timeframe compared to other years. It has had a detrimental effect on our business.”

After the tense debate in February at the Tourism Commission level and the Mayor and Council level, it was determined the best thing to do for the coming season was to keep the start time at 10 p.m., largely because the fireworks displays have been advertised at that start time in much of the resort’s print and online marketing. However, that decision was not etched in stone and could be subject to change. Resort officials wanted to hear from the business community on the issues, and after the OCDC survey, it appears the Boardwalk merchants are just as split as everyone else.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.