OCEAN CITY – The Somerset Street carts are gone and although their long-term fate remains to be determined, contention still lies along Somerset Street, with at least one business owner asking for more changes.
The Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) and the Mayor and Council approved the carts earlier this year in an attempt to bring more foot traffic to the street. Special events, such as the Crab Cook-Off and the OC Art Show, were also approved with the same goal, to bring more people to the street and to the downtown area.
Al Wendling, owner of Pop’s Joke Shop, has made it clear since the beginning that he was opposed to the carts on Somerset Street. Wendling appeared before the Mayor and Council several times throughout the summer in an attempt to rid the street of the carts. Wendling claimed the carts were blocking the stores and taking away from their business. He also voiced concerns that the carts were not selling the merchandise approved by the Mayor and Council, but were instead selling merchandise similar to what the stores were selling. Despite Wendling’s frustrations with the carts, the Mayor and Council recommended that the carts remain on Somerset Street until the end of summer, when the pilot program would then be reviewed.
According to Glenn Irwin, executive director of the OCDC, the first vendor was approved to sell arts and crafts. Irwin explained that when that vendor did not work out, a second vendor was chosen, who decided to sell the traditional Ocean City merchandise, which in some cases was found to be in direct competition with the other stores on Somerset Street.
Irwin explained that at the direction of the City Council, the carts stayed in place for the duration of the summer. At a board retreat scheduled for next week, the cart situation will be discussed and a decision will be made and recommended to the Mayor and Council.
“I think it allowed us to see the opportunity for carts,” Irwin said of the pilot program. “We learned several lessons regarding merchandise, location of carts, as well as storage.”
Irwin said some problems were worked out throughout the summer, such as the storage of the carts.
“I think it brought some people down Somerset Street,” Irwin said. “Overall, there’s probably more foot traffic on Somerset Street than any other side street.”
The carts’ last day of operation was on Aug. 13, and according to Wendling, who appeared before the Mayor and Council Monday night, business has increased 100 percent.
With the carts gone, Wendling asked the Mayor and Council Monday night to keep their minds open and not only vote against having carts next year, but also to bring parking back to the streets.
Wendling explained that the return of parking on the street would be advantageous, requesting that 12 spots be brought back.
Councilman Jim Hall questioned whether the cost of bringing parking back would be worthwhile. “You just said yourself that business is doing great,” Hall said to Wendling.
Hall pointed out that Somerset Street is part of a larger plan for the downtown area. He also noted the success of the special events on Somerset Street. Hall told Wendling that although he supported him, he could not back a decision to convert Somerset Street.
“The OCDC would not support the spending of public funds to bring back on-street parking,” Irwin said later.
As for the fate of the carts, Irwin could not say whether they would be returning, but did say that after their meeting next week, a recommendation would be made to the Mayor and Council in the near future.