“Change is change,” Jay Gillian said of Boardwalk businesses, and as the mayor of Ocean City and the owner of an amusement park, he knows from professional and personal experience that turnover promotes progress.
“It is sad when some of the longstanding businesses do close, but it seems like some new businesses come in and it just keeps on going,” he said.
“We’ve got to keep changing,” agreed Anthony Catanoso, owner of Steel Pier in Atlantic City, which plans to debut a 225-foot-tall Observation Wheel in time for a New Year’s Eve party. “We’re determined to make Atlantic City a family destination, and we want to lead that charge.”
And so for 2014, these business owners, plus the Morey family in Wildwood, are among those bringing change to the wooden ways of the Jersey shore as a way of guaranteeing fun in every visit to the boardwalk.
This week, the new owners of Gillian’s Island Waterpark in Ocean City announced they plan to make $500,000 worth of renovations to the 25-year-old attraction at Plymouth Place and the Boardwalk. The park, renamed Adventure Island Waterpark, will continue to cross-promote activities with Gillian’s Wonderland, the amusement park owned by the city’s mayor.
More change is taking place at the Strand, a multiplex at Ninth Street and the Boardwalk that is being downsized from five movie theaters to two, with the remainder of the indoor space dedicated to Boardwalk Bounce, a kiddie playground with ball pits and rock-climbing walls. Adjacent to the Strand and fronting the Boardwalk, three stores are being converted to two.
Change at the Strand this season follows change at another movie house in America’s Greatest Family Resort, the Moorlyn, which in 2013 opened with a slate of family-focused entertainment after the property was donated by an anonymous buyer to the Tabernacle.
Three new rides are planned at Playland’s Castaway Cove on the 1000 block of the Boardwalk, joining seven new rides that debuted there last year.
Another family that has built an empire on the Boardwalk is transforming two of its eight stores for 2014. Jody Levchuk, director of operations for Jilly’s, whose parents opened their first Boardwalk store in 1976, said The Spot by Jilly’s on the 700 block of the Boardwalk will become a third Jilly’s T-Shirt Factory by Easter and that The Spot on the 1000 block will become a second Boardwalk location for the Ocean City Coffee Co. in the same time frame. Ocean City Coffee also operates a store on the 900 block of Asbury Avenue in the city’s downtown shopping district.
“Both were very successful for years,” Levchuk said of The Spot stores, which opened in 2005 and 2007 and sold high-end clothing and accessories. “Those stores were fashion-forward and cutting edge, but they were far too daunting for us to run the way we wanted to. When they opened, my brother and I were both single guys married to our jobs. Now, we’re both married, I have a child and another one on the way, and the partnership with Ocean City Coffee Co. made sense.”
The conversion of The Spot on the northern end of the Boardwalk to a Jilly’s T-Shirt Factory was spurred by the family’s ability to quickly attract bulk custom orders from schools and businesses, Levchuk said. Instead of custom-designing one shirt at a time for one customer at a time, the T-Shirt Factory will produce merchandise such as school gear and shirts for gym staff members and others.
“There will always be a place in my heart for The Spot, and in my man cave at home for the sign,” Levchuk said. “I will miss it dearly. I loved buying for it. But better things are on the horizon. You have to keep up with the times, and sometimes that means you have to change.”
There is no rest for the weary, said Catanoso, who rented Steel Pier for 20 years from Donald Trump before purchasing it three years ago. Although his back was aching Thursday and there was much work ahead of him, Catanoso said he is eagerly anticipating the 2014 season.
The biggest change coming to the pier at 1000 Boardwalk is truly big: It’s 225 feet tall and will cost between $12 million and $14 million. Catanoso said construction of an Observation Wheel with enclosed, climate-controlled cabins that will feature food and beverage service will begin this summer with the addition of a 30,000-square-foot deck. The wheel itself — there are only four operating in the country, to Catanoso’s knowledge — will be installed in the fall. Deadline for opening is New Year’s Eve, though Catanoso acknowledged time is getting tight for that.
In addition, for this summer, Steel Pier is adding an adult bumper car ride and a drop-and-spin tower targeted to 4- to 9-year-olds, although adults can ride it, too, Catanoso said. Last year, a kiddie bumper car ride and a swing ride featuring painted panels of the old Atlantic City Water Circus were added to the pier’s attractions.
In converting the pub at the front of the pier from a bar to a restaurant this year, Catanoso said he hopes to drive year-round traffic to the property, and to eventually have two-thirds of the property operating on a year-round basis.
Mariner’s Landing Pier at Schellenger Avenue in Wildwood has added a Wave Swinger ride and a taco shack to its attractions for 2014. Owner Jack Morey said designers worked all winter on creating 72 graphic panels featuring historic Wildwood scenes for the Wave Swinger, and that the ride will be 11 feet higher than the original, affording panoramic views of the pier, beach and Boardwalk.
A new food outlet on the pier will sell gourmet tacos featuring such fillings as Korean barbecue beef and mahi mahi.
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