Andrew Fasy is chairman of the Committee to Preserve Ocean City
On Tuesday, Ocean City residents voted overwhelmingly to reject a Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) ordinance that would have allowed beer, wine, and malt beverages to be brought to local restaurants. The proposal was a classic case of substantial risk far outweighing a very limited and very dubious reward.
Ocean City is one of the most successful destinations along the Jersey Shore because of its long-standing reputation as "America's Greatest Family Resort." When people talk about Ocean City, the words most commonly associated with it are clean, safe, wholesome, and family-friendly. These are the qualities that define Ocean City, and it is precisely those qualities that our success as a resort and vacation destination is predicated upon. Passage of the BYOB ordinance would have posed a direct threat to that.
Mark Soifer, Ocean City's publicist for 40 years, has stated, "Time after time, visitors and residents have told me what they like about Ocean City is its clean, friendly atmosphere free of public consumption of alcohol. ... [P]eople who work in the tourism industry have told me there are many resorts that wished they had the personality and image of Ocean City.
"Any loss or diminishment of the city's enviable reputation will undermine our economy and, most importantly, undermine the quality of life that visitors and residents have come to expect."
It is worth noting that not all restaurant owners in Ocean City supported this initiative. Some thought it would be detrimental for the reasons stated above. Others were concerned that it would cause patrons to linger over their alcoholic beverages long after their meal, thus delaying the restaurant's ability to "turn over" tables to waiting customers.
There is no evidence to support the notion that BYOB would have had any significant impact on Ocean City restaurants, most of which are already doing brisk business during the summer season. As for the argument that BYOB would have helped year-round business for Ocean City restaurants, consider that there are 10 restaurants in neighboring Strathmere and Sea Isle City combined that have BYOB, and all of them close during the off-season.
In the final analysis, the proponents of BYOB did not nearly meet the burden of proof that would justify putting our reputation, our economic success, and our quality of life at risk.
One thing that people on both sides of the issue agree upon is that we all want Ocean City to be successful. And, by almost any measure, Ocean City is extraordinarily successful. That success extends well beyond the boardwalk. Downtown Asbury Avenue is a delightful, vibrant place to shop and to enjoy a meal and the nightly entertainment.
Of course, we are not immune to the challenges facing small-town business districts everywhere. Malls, big-box retailers, online shopping, and shifting population bases have all had a profound effect on people's shopping and dining habits.
Ocean City has lost about 25 percent of its year-round population over the last decade. Other barrier-island communities have experienced similar declines due to a variety of factors, including soaring real estate values.
Our business community as a whole is challenged to develop meaningful ideas to attract more customers and generate additional revenues from a shrinking population. It is not a problem unique to Ocean City. In fact, it's an issue that's being played out on Main Streets across the country.
What is unique is Ocean City's valuable reputation as a family-friendly hometown and resort, and the appealing niche we have carved out over these many years. For those of us who are fortunate enough to live here, work here, or visit here, they are a reputation and a niche well worth preserving.
E-mail Andrew Fasy at Drew@nobyob.com.