OCEAN CITY, N.J. — It was just after 8 a.m. Saturday when the Frenchy’s crew arrived to make their beach landing. With a yoga class already spread out and a barefoot wedding wrapping up, it was high time to Frenchify the Music Pier beach.
That meant setting up, before most people arrived, rows and rows of yellow plastic chaise lounges, each with a bright red-and-yellow striped Frenchy’s-branded beach umbrella, and a handy Frenchy’s menu attached, all for the potential amusement of visitors who might be willing to fork over rental fees.
And while this might help some New Jersey people pretend they are at a tropical resort — sans the frozen daiquiris that are still illegal in Ocean City — others are not amused.
“There’s a reason there’s never a line at Frenchy’s,” said a fuming Dawn Marie Jardel, a regular on the beach south of the Music Pier for 14 years, who shelled out $80 in beach tags only to find her family beach had been taken over by a french fry company armed with an artillery of yellow chaise lounges.
She and friend Kelli Ireland are so outraged at the Frenchy’s chaise lounges monopolizing their beach, they say they are boycotting Frenchy’s French Fry store on the Boardwalk (formerly Curly’s). And their children are on board.
“How much beach do they need to take up with nobody renting the chairs?” Jardel said. (Well, not nobody, but there were lots of empty yellow loungers all around.)
Does Frenchy’s own the beach?
Don’t tell Frenchy’s it doesn’t have the right to stake out that large a portion of the beach for its concession.
As owner of the deed to the building now housing Frenchy’s (Curly’s was moved several blocks away), the company can claim the legal title to the beach to the high tide line, known as riparian rights.
So Frenchy’s may have the legal right to do whatever it wants on what is arguably Ocean City’s premier public beach, adjacent to the Music Pier. The company’s building runs along the Boardwalk from Moorlyn Terrace to A Place on Earth a few doors down.
But that brings up another question. Why are the Jardels and families like them paying $25 per person for a season tag for a beach owned not by Ocean City, but by a french fry company? Courts and legislation have upheld the public’s beach access rights.
The City of Ocean City, besieged by complaints about Frenchy’s, has said it would not counter Frenchy’s claims to the sand.
“The business appears to be operating within its riparian rights,” Ocean City public information officer Doug Bergen said Monday. “The mayor will not have any further comment on the issue at this time.”
The Congo Falls connection
The company that owns Frenchy’s is no stranger to controversy. Adventure Golf South LLP is the same company that owns Congo Falls, whose expansion to Margate created an uproar and a lawsuit last summer, according to manager Kevin Kelly.
Kelly says the company is still working out the details on how many chairs to set up, but would not be deterred by the complaints.
“We’re just trying to provide the same type of service that the beach has always had, with a little nicer, upscale feel,” Kelly said. “We’re not there to take over the beach. We’re trying to provide a different service. We don’t want to ruin your experience.”
“We’re feeling it out right now,” added Kelly, who had set up about 35 chairs in rows of six and was using an electric drill to insert umbrellas into the sand. “We don’t want to take over the whole beach. We want to figure out how many chairs to set up.”
Jardel, staring at a sea of empty yellow chaise lounges, worried about the changing flavor of the beach her family has claimed as its favorite for 14 years. Other regulars, they say, have abandoned their usual beach between Eighth and Ninth Streets and headed for the Frenchy-free 12th Street beach.
“I was here before they started setting up,” said Connie Nardiello of Washington Township, whose chair ended up perched at the edge of a sea of Frenchy yellow. "They were coming closer and closer. At first I thought it was something Ocean City was doing and thought, how nice, first come, first serve.
“It’s a little commercialized,” she said. “Part of me is, just let it be the beach. Let people bring their own chairs.”
Needless to say, the people at Bert’s umbrellas and chairs, whose much more sedate green sling wooden chairs and green and yellow umbrellas with no logo sit stacked by the dunes waiting to be rented out, person by person, aren’t too crazy about it either. (Though some other regulars note that Bert’s cut into another longtime umbrella concession, Surf & Sand.)
On Saturday, Bert’s sent one customer under its green umbrella pointedly into the sea of yellow and red Frenchy territory. Frenchy did not object.
People at Bert’s, a family-owned company that has been setting up umbrellas and chairs in Ocean City for 70 years, did not want to be quoted for this story.
Bert’s is renting umbrellas for $10 a day, chairs for $6. Frenchy’s is charging $10 a chair and $10 an umbrella, or $29 for two lounge chairs, an umbrella, and a portable plastic safe to store belongings.
On Saturday, the vast majority of Frenchy’s chaise lounges were unrented by mid-morning, but those who took advantage them — without knowing they were doing anything remotely controversial — seemed happy enough.
“Is there not enough space on the entire beach?” said Allison Brumer of Lititz, Pa. “I’ve never seen the beach run out of space.”
She said she appreciated that Frenchy’s chair setup left her with a little more space between the next group of beachgoers than when people fill in at will.
“I was like, ‘Ooh, it looks like a resort,’” her friend Michael Sole of Lancaster said. “It’s the size of a tennis court,” he said of the Frenchy’s compound. “People complain about everything.”
Toni McGuire, a local, said she’d counted a setup of 98 chairs and 55 umbrellas over Memorial Day weekend, and had been calling the Mayor’s Office to complain about a private company’s encroachment on what until this year was considered a prime public spot.
“It really gets junked up,” she said. “Don’t put them all out on the beach and then they’re vacant.”