In the end, say BYOB opponents, tradition won out
OCEAN CITY, N.J. — It had been a quiet victory celebration, with no popping of champagne corks or rousing cheers. Yet Andrew Fasy said he felt a little hung over Wednesday, the morning after residents of this Cape May County resort took a stand in a historic referendum against allowing alcohol to be consumed at local restaurants. The proposal, rejected by a more than 2-1 ratio, would have allowed diners to bring in their own bottles of beer or wine.
OCEAN CITY, N.J. — It had been a quiet victory celebration, with no popping of champagne corks or rousing cheers.
Yet Andrew Fasy said he felt a little hung over Wednesday, the morning after residents of this Cape May County resort took a stand in a historic referendum against allowing alcohol to be consumed at local restaurants. The proposal, rejected by a more than 2-1 ratio, would have allowed diners to bring in their own bottles of beer or wine.
"Essentially, nothing has changed here today ... and we're happy about that," said Fasy, chairman of the Committee to Preserve Ocean City, an anti-BYOB group formed after an association of restaurateurs collected enough signatures to have the question put on the general-election ballot.
Change isn't a welcome concept in "America's Favorite Family Resort," Fasy said. Tradition is.
"Ocean City is still a special, different kind of place," Maura Schubert, 76, a summer visitor from the Philadelphia suburb of St. Davids, said Wednesday of the former Methodist retreat, founded in the 1880s on the principle of "preservation of the Christian Sabbath and freedom from liquor."
"Because there is no drinking allowed, it still has that charm that it did years ago," said Schubert, whose parents operated the old Columbus Hotel in Atlantic City and whose aunt Kay Ryan owned the Oceanic Hotel in Ocean City between the 1930s and the 1970s. "I'm thrilled by the vote," she said.
Though no one may consume alcohol legally in public, people do drink here. Alcohol is in homes and at private events in hotels and restaurants. Some clubs, mostly military benevolent organizations, have bars where members imbibe. And residents and tourists alike go to taverns, restaurants, and liquor stores in neighboring towns, such as Somers Point and Marmora.
But Ocean City, where the year-round population of about 13,000 can spike to more than a quarter-million on summer weekends, fiercely guards its squeaky-clean image. Careful marketing is required to promote a place with deep Christian roots that also wants to appeal to visitors who may not be all that interested in attending Sunday services, said Mark Soifer, the city's public relations guru for more than 40 years.
"People like to come here because of the feeling they get when they walk down the street, or down the boardwalk, that you won't get anywhere else at the Shore," Soifer said. "It goes back to Marketing 101. ... Nobody has the niche like we do. And you don't easily give that up or jeopardize that if that's one of your main selling points."
Over the years, various groups have sought to overturn the alcohol ban, mounting campaigns aimed at allowing restaurateurs the option of going BYOB. Tuesday's effort came closest to succeeding, but was defeated, 3,365 to 1,526.
"I think people who live in Ocean City realize that it's a one-in-a-million kind of place and that it wasn't worth it to throw that all away so people can have a glass of wine with dinner in a restaurant," said Lisa Mell, general manager of Charlie's Bar in Somers Point.
Whether or not voters passed the referendum, Mell does not think the outcome would have affected business at her establishment, which has operated since 1944.
"The reason that people come to Ocean City, the reason that people like Ocean City, is because it's so nice. There is no hassle from drunks or inappropriate behavior," said Mell, who last week predicted the question's defeat based on what her customers were saying.
A desire to uphold tradition is "why so many people voted no, even if they like to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with dinner," she said.
Ginny Tiniakos, who operates the Windjammer Diner, Bar & Grill in Somers Point near the Ninth Street Bridge leading into Ocean City, agrees. She also does not believe her business would have been negatively affected if the question had passed.
"People love Ocean City more than they love alcohol," said Tiniakos, who opened her establishment in the fall. "I think we'll all have even more business since Ocean City has stayed dry because more people will keep coming back."
Even Bill McGinnity, vice president of the Ocean City Restaurant Association, which led the charge to enact the BYOB option, said Wednesday he understood that logic.
"Ocean City really is a special place, and I think that for the first time, people really had a chance to understand all the facts [about BYOB] and vote with their hearts," said McGinnity, who operates Cousin's Restaurant. "For the first time, it was on the ballot and people got to decide for themselves, which I think is a good thing."
Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or email@example.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at www.philly.com/downashore.