OCEAN CITY – Resort officials this week agreed to alter the payment structure and terms for a contract between the town and its current beach photography franchise owner.
On Tuesday, the Ocean City Council voted unanimously to amend the terms for the renewal of a contract between the town and the current operator of the beach photography franchise. Owner Jonathan Cameron said his request to alter the payment schedule and contract terms comes as his business faces growing financial hardship.
“I’ve been involved with every aspect of Telescope Pictures, and this is the only one that’s still going in the whole country …,” he told the council this week. “We want to keep it going, and we need your help here.”
For years, Ocean City’s beach photography franchise was essentially divided into two separate franchises. The two franchises were not divided geographically, but rather limited the number of photographers allowed on the beach.
In a presentation Tuesday, City Clerk Diana Chavis said at one point the beach photography franchise had been highly competitive. In recent years, however, the franchise has seen significant changes.
“In 1984 it went to three franchises, where it stood for quite a while,” she said. “In 2006, it changed to a two-franchise system with a minimum bid of $300,000. In 2010, that minimum bid was reduced to $150,000 per franchise. And in 2019, it was consolidated into one franchise with a minimum bid of $225,000.”
In 2018, Cameron was the sole bidder of one of the two franchises. And in 2019, he expressed interest in the second available franchise. To that end, the Mayor and Council that year agreed to consolidate from a two-franchise system to a one-franchise system and reduce the minimum bid to $225,000.
Since that time, Cameron and his wife have operated as the sole photo franchise holders in Ocean City. With his contract set to expire on Nov. 30, he came before the council this week seeking to amend the payment structure and terms before his contract could be renewed.
“We severely underestimated how much more technology would cost us in this business,” he told the council. “When I started 23 years ago, it was just film, a few photographers – some 14-year-old local kids – one or two stores with very low rent and overhead, and every year it gets just a little bit more. The tough part for us is we are different than a restaurant. We have these guys and girls running around all day long, and they are getting hard no’s on the beach.”
With the introduction of cellphones and social media, Cameron said it has become increasingly difficult to sell pictures. He said inflation has only added to those challenges.
“With inflation, all of our prices are going up,” he said. “It’s so difficult for our prices to go up, because we’re already having such a hard time selling our products or getting people to say yes to our products.”
Cameron said he was requesting the council amend the payment structure for the second term to reduce the amount owed to the town each January.
“We want to keep this going, but our expenses are going up, the margins are extremely low, and we are really looking forward to extending the contract,” he said. “But the 50% that’s due January 1 is a bear. We don’t see any revenue until May or June, and we’re trying to figure out how to get our costs lower.”
Cameron noted that he has the option to renew for an additional four years at a rate 10% greater. He said he was also requesting the council waive the 10% increase.
“The 10% increase is something we cannot bear moving forward,” he said.
When asked if the council was able to amend the terms of the contract, City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said the town code allowed changes to the term, payment structure, or assessment of interest and penalties, so long as the applicant met certain criteria.
“You would need to find that the applicant has demonstrated extraordinary circumstances and has put forth a good cause to make modifications,” she explained.
Councilman John Gehrig said he understood the hardships the franchisee faced. He argued the town should grant the requests.
“It’s unique to Ocean City, and I still see people with keychains,” he said. “I think you provide a great service to Ocean City. You are a reputable vendor, no complaints, so I support it.”
With no further discussion, the council voted 7-0 to amend the payment structure and eliminate the 10% increase.