I was struck by the potatoes. More specifically, the French fries.
I must have passed these storefronts on the Ocean City Boardwalk a thousand times. But on a recent sunny weekend, something different registered: the way different stores, even if they are selling the same stuff — in this case, fried potatoes — will try to position it uniquely.
So one place sells you fries in long curls. Another one lets you watch as your individual potato is transformed into a deliciously greasy treat before your eyes.
Of course. If you’re competing for customers, you have to find a way to make your product seem unique.
It’s the same way with tourist destinations, such as shore towns. Such as the one I was in at that moment.
The seaside towns along the coast have positioned themselves differently, trying to trumpet what makes them stand out from the next bit of sand and surf.
But few of them have done a better job than Ocean City, which bills itself as “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” and gets a lot of free publicity, thanks mostly to its public relations director, Mark Soifer.
Soifer’s the guy behind the spring Doo Dah Parade and the summer Weird Contest Week and the fall Quiet Festival.
He’s still tireless at 79, and he doesn’t look much different from when I first met him more than 30 years ago, although at that time he hadn’t yet taken to wearing a trash can lid on his head.
That’s something he does sometimes when he makes public appearances. Martin DeAngelis explained it all very well in a recent feature in The Press. You can read it by clicking here.
Don’t get the wrong idea about Soifer’s stunts. He’s not promoting himself, he’s promoting Ocean City, and building that fun, slightly goofy, “family” reputation it has.
Yes, he’s the kind of guy who’ll wax poetic about a hermit crab, but he’s also the guy you see at the city’s transportation center at 6:30 a.m. on a cold November Saturday, making sure people get registered for the Trail of Two Cities 5k.
Because it’s not just about the sizzle. It’s also about the potatoes.