ATLANTIC CITY - Cheryl and Gary Colclough of Nottingham, England, spent part of their vacation earlier this month here as spectators on the new Roaring '20s Trolley Tour, hearing the colorful history and stories of that time.
The Colcloughs watch "Boardwalk Empire" on the Sky Atlantic television channel, which has been pushing the HBO series, Gary Colclough said. Because of "Boardwalk Empire," Cheryl Colclough wanted to see the resort. Her husband had been here previously. They spent half their vacation in this country in Philadelphia and the other half here.
"I have an interest in knowing about everything. I was interested in Atlantic City history," said Gary Colclough, who spent one of his evenings with his wife of five years eating at the historic Knife and Fork Inn here, which was originally established in 1912.
The city is both benefiting and taking advantage of the fact HBO created "Boardwalk Empire," a critically acclaimed, Emmy Award-winning show set in the city's 1920s past. This is happening even though there are some barriers to the city fully capitalizing on the series, specifically, the series not being filmed here and some of the landmarks from that time no longer exist.
"There is still equity in the 'Boardwalk Empire' show that makes a compelling case for us to continue the marketing," said Jeff Vasser, executive director of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. "We don't know for the second season where they are going to go with it, so there could be new opportunities for us. They could make, for example, the Steel Pier the focal point of something next year and that would give us a new opportunity at something fresh."
In alignment with the start of the second season of "Boardwalk Empire" tonight, the ACCVA website - www.atlanticcitynj.com - has been completely redone with a 1920s theme. There is a link to find out more about historic Atlantic City and a link to Atlantic City Free Public Library Website, which has its own Atlantic City Experience section.
For the three months that "Boardwalk Empire" aired last year, traffic to the ACCVA website increased 15 percent each month over 2009.
While it's hard to independently verify how much of an impact "Boardwalk Empire" is having on Atlantic City, those hoping to capitalize on the HBO series say it has helped their business.
Nucky's Way and the Roaring '20s - two themed trolley tours - are still doing well, Vasser said.
The creation of "Boardwalk Empire" was a huge help in deciding to establish the Roaring '20s Trolley Tour, which started in June, said Stephanie Schwartz, charter and convention sales manager for the Great American Trolley Company in Cape May.
"It was so close to home that it was almost like a no-brainer that we needed to run this tour. In terms of people reserving, a lot of people have read the Nelson Johnson book (which inspired the series) or have seen the show," said Schwartz, who added the tour has been attracting locals and vacationers. Interest is so high, the tour will continue through the fall, she said.
The rebranding of Resorts Casino Hotel with a 1920s motif started months after last September's debut of "Boardwalk Empire," even though Resorts Chief Executive Officer Dennis Gomes said the idea of a Prohibition-era theme came to him before the show premiered.
"The first place everybody thinks of when the 'Boardwalk Empire' thing is going is basically us because of our '20s theme," said Gomes. "We're a part of the time period and the things that they talk about in 'Boardwalk Empire,' so we're historically a perfect match for it."
Gomes considers the casino's adoption of a 1920s theme since December a success. For the first six months of this year, Resorts has suffered an operating loss of more than $11 million, more than any other casino in the city.
Resorts, formerly Chalfonte-Haddon Hall, is one 1920s-era landmark still intact, said Heather Halpin Perez, library archivist for the Atlantic City Free Public Library. The city is also home to businesses, churches, restaurants, piers and public buildings that were part of the city's jazz-age fabric.
"If someone were to visit Atlantic City today, they would see a variety of places that were around in the 1920s. Not all of them look the same as they did in the 1920s, but the building and structures are still here," Halpin Perez said.
Among the places and attractions shown during season one of "Boardwalk Empire" that still can be seen today include Fralinger's salt water taffy, the Boardwalk and rolling chairs, said Vicki Gold Levi, an Atlantic City historian and author.
Fans can also view a 108-foot long replica of the Boardwalk stores seen on the HBO series. The display was erected in July in front of the West Hall of Boardwalk Hall, near Florida Avenue. The project was the brainchild of radio host and Press of Atlantic City columnist Pinky Kravitz.
Dennis Mason, the 5th Ward councilman, wanted to create another place visitors could come and see.
Mason was unsuccessful last year in getting an ordinance passed changing the name of the beach block Belmont Avenue to Nucky's Way in an attempt to capitalize on the publicity created by "Boardwalk Empire," which is based on the life of the late Enoch "Nucky" Johnson.
"I wanted to monopolize on all the press the show was getting," Mason said.
Even though Mason failed last year, he hasn't given up on the idea for a sign for Johnson. He convinced the Ritz Condominiums, which used to be the Ritz-Carlton where Johnson lived, to allow for an old-time, black and white street sign that reads "Nucky's Way," two inches off city property, right by the condos' driveway. All he needs is sponsorship to pay for the sign and a brass plaque.
"It's going to be done. One way or another, it's going to be done," Mason said.
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