His store is something of an anomaly on the Ocean City boardwalk. At 32,000 square feet, its footprint is abnormally large and its tall, glass-paneled storefront is hard to miss. The shop is also one of the few offering name-brand apparel, rather than novelty tees sold alongside shot glasses and spray-on tattoos.
Dreibelbis opened this store in the summer of 2010, a risky time to begin a new business venture. The national economy was only beginning to recover and families were still prioritizing necessities over vacations.
“My business is going up, but we’re only three [summers] old,” said Dreibelbis, who has operated another location since 1983. “Most people tell me it’s pretty stagnant ... My one friend has one of the larger restaurants in town, and he said, ‘Flat is the new up’.”
Ocean City did not endure the tumbleweeds-through-town-square kind of downturn experienced in some other vacation destinations. The vast majority of its visitors travel by car and can find modestly priced lodging, making it a more affordable option than, say, a cruise through the Caribbean or a flight to Florida.
Even still, the downturn was palpable. Fewer people were making the summer pilgrimage than in year’s past, and those who did were staying for shorter lengths of time and spending fewer dollars at restaurants and retailers.
The most recent prognosis is more optimistic, if cautiously so. An estimate of city visitors, based on sewer system usage, shows that an average of 250,146 people were in town each weekend of June. That’s up 1 percent compared with the same month last year, and up 8.3 percent compared with June 2010.
As a result, there is greater confidence among the business community here that the beach economy can once again support the creation of new small businesses, and the expansion and renovation of those already in place.
“The people are here now,” said Melanie Pursel, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. “I think they’re still pinching their wallet a little bit. They’re still being cautious about spending. But they’re coming and that’s good.”
‘The new economy’
There are miles of low-rise shopping centers along Coastal Highway, the main artery that divides Ocean City into properties that line the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Assawoman Bay and the Isle of Wight Bay to the west.
The stores at the highway’s intersection with 45th Street would blend in among them if not for the bright orange storefront of the 45th Street Taphouse Bar & Grille that opened in March. OC Steamers, a seafood restaurant next door, opened three months later.
The eateries share more than owners. They also feature an outdoor bar and seating area that offers picturesque views of the bay’s choppy waters and the evening sunset. For Executive Chef and General Manager Jeff Burton, that makes all the difference.