Ocean City Lures Shoppers Downtown

first_imgBy Tim KellyIt was a typical warm summer beach day when the banner plane flew high above the waves.“Brush off the Sand and Shop Ocean City,” the advertising banner urged.Ocean City’s traditional tourism focus has always has been: beach, bay and Boardwalk. In recent years, local officials have made a more concerted effort to boost its downtown shopping district as an attraction to rival the others.Shopping is lauded as one of the top three reasons people visit Ocean City, tourism boosters noted, and with good reason.Asbury Avenue between 6th and 14th Streets comprises the main downtown shopping and dining corridor, with dozens of unique stores, shops, cafes and other attractions.In all, there are more than 100 clean, safe and centrally-located shops and cafes for visitors and residents to enjoy downtown. For many visitors who arrive from neighborhoods served by strip malls, big-box stores and chains, O.C.’s downtown is a happening.On Monday, we caught up with expecting mom Elizabeth Eshelman and husband Christian, of Lancaster PA, who will welcome a boy into the family in December.“We’re not looking (specifically) for baby things, but we might see something,” Elizabeth said. “There is a nice atmosphere here for shopping. It’s very relaxed.”“We like it that there aren’t a lot of chain (stores),”Christian said. “The people working in the stores are very nice. It’s not just the same five chains located around town like in some places.  It’s a much different experience,” he said.The Eshelmans are part of a growing trend, said Michele Gillian, Executive Director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.“There’s a big push to shop local,”Gillian said. “More people are understanding that if you shop local, you’re helping to keep local people working.”Expectant parents Elizabeth and Christian Eshelman said the shopping atmosphere is relaxed on Asbury Ave.It’s not just recognition of the downtown shops’ solid contribution to the local economy. Ocean City is proactive, turning shopping into an adventure year-round.  There are special activities and deals, themed events like a “Girls Weekend” for shopping, Black Friday promotions in November and much more.A stroll along Asbury can mean entertainment from face-painting to Mummers string band appearances. And with its wide variety of cafes and restaurants, shoppers can easily make a morning or afternoon of their shopping excursion.One of the nation’s first “vacation apps” for smartphone users enables people to obtain e-coupons, make cashless purchases and learn the complete schedule of downtown happenings. For more information, and a chance to win a free 7-day vacation, visit www.oceancityvacation.com to download the app.  There’s also an aggressive TV advertising program and billboards on the Jersey-bound side of Philly’s Walt Whitman Bridge.Merchants appreciate the marketing efforts, said OC resident Candice Kolins, co-owner of Cruise Control Gear, a high performance sportswear company which recently invested in a retail store at 810 Asbury Ave. in the Stainton’s complex.A graphic from the Ocean City vacation app touts shopping on Asbury. (Photo courtesy oceancityvacation.com )“We love Ocean City and we wanted to make our products available in our hometown,” she noted. “We’re excited to be downtown because (the city and Chamber) do a great job of getting out the crowds. It’s not just seasonal,” she said of the shopping scene on Asbury. “The City markets its shopping opportunities all year.  Also, the boutiques and shops are so varied you can find most anything you’re looking for. Downtown seems like it’s always bustling.”As for the banner plane?“(The banner) gives us the opportunity to let everyone know on our eight mile island about our downtown,” Gillian said. “Some people come in over 34th Street and they turn left, they never turn right (in the direction of downtown). We want everyone to enjoy the experience of shopping in an old-fashioned small town.”Hoy’s 5&10 is an iconic throwback store in OC’s throwback shopping district.Hoy’s 5&10 is a throwback to when thousands of towns across America had “five and dimes,” places where you could pick up a wide range of essentials at a reasonable cost.Rick Stogdale of Phoenixville PA, was perusing the amazing assortment of beach gear with daughters Catherine and Evelyn. He had already picked out for purchase a beach umbrella holder and a deck of cards.The girls were looking at stickers to decorate their bedrooms and Evelyn had found a bone-shaped sign featuring the name of their family dog, Parker.“We slept in today and then decided to come down here and pick up a few things,” Rick explained. We were pretty excited to find something with Parker’s name on it.”This didn’t come as a shock to Gillian.“Our downtown is a true gem of Ocean City,” she said of the vibrant community of locally owned businesses. Rick Stogdale and daughters Catherine (center) and Evelyn found vacation supplies at Hoy’s 5&10last_img