Will Morey, 55, and Jack Morey, 51, are second-generation partners in Morey’s Piers, an amusement business that got its start in 1969 when their father, Will Morey, and uncle, Bill Morey, debuted a giant slide between 25th and 26th avenues in North Wildwood. Since then the Morey name has become synonymous with the Wildwoods.
Q: Your father and uncle got into the amusement business and began what would become today’s Morey’s Piers in 1969 with the introduction of the giant slide. How has the company evolved since then in terms of attractions and other business ventures?
Will Morey: Wow, that is hard to put into a few words. I will take a little bit of a stab at it and that will give Jack time to fill in for me as usual. I think there has been a dramatic change. There is no question about it. Just in terms of today’s environment, it is very demanding. There is a whole different regulatory environment — just the way we do business is dramatically different than it was then in so many areas. Employment, international recruiting, just all the many, many aspects. I think there are certain things that are the same, too, and ultimately it’s all about families and it’s about trying to keep the ‘wow’ factor. ... It’s a compelling place to visit and a place where families can really just enjoy time with each other and find something a little more than they have expected. So, I think from the very beginning the giant slide was trying to have folks find something more than what they would have expected and have a great family experience, and I think that is what drives us today.
Jack Morey: In some ways, it has gone full circle. In some ways, it’s, quite frankly, the behind the scenes just has become bigger and more sophisticated. Focus on safety and engineering and sort of systems and so forth. But, in many ways, it has come full circle. There’s a period there where ... we thought we were a theme park and that turned out to be, I think, a mistake, so we really came full circle in sort of getting back to what is the really true essence of Boardwalk. And as my great friend and mentor Steve Izenour said, we are now no longer ashamed to be tacky and (are) proud of it.
Q: Who are your target visitors and what steps does the company take to get them to Wildwood and North Wildwood every summer? How many visitors do you have each year?
Jack: Our target market is families with young kids. I think our rides are set up to ride from (ages) 8 to 80, maybe ... or maybe even younger. But ‘8 to 80’ is an interesting phrase. It’s primarily families with young children. When teenagers get to an age where they start to get their driver’s license, they want their own independence. They tend to be not our primary target. We can entertain them just fine, but usually they are interested in different things.
Q: How can Wildwood best compete with Atlantic City and points north for the tourist dollar?
Will: You know, I — Wildwood needs to be Wildwood. Wildwood needs to be — it has the unique offerings. It has, I think, a tremendous appeal to families. My view is, Atlantic City is a narrower market. It’s adult entertainment. Not to say that they can’t, you know, have — they can try to accommodate the families as well. But, Wildwood is all about the family. Between the beach and the Boardwalk and the collection of, you know, rides and various attractions, that’s really what Wildwood is. And what I think we need to do more than anything is sort of just turn up the volume, so to speak, on all that.
Jack: Yeah. I would say, in short, Atlantic City is not a competitor to Wildwood. We need to build a business, from a regional perspective, at the southern Jersey shore. And the last time I looked on the map, you know, Atlantic City was right there. You know, it’s different, it’s a neighbor, and we need to be talking about Atlantic City in all of our promotions and not trying to escape that very big factor.
Q: How many visitors do you believe each year are coming to your piers?
Will: Well, the Wildwood Boardwalk has ... between 5 and 7 million certainly, and I’m sorry for the large range. For the most part, many of those folks who are on the Boardwalk touch a piece of Morey’s Piers. ... We would equate our sort of guest count at about a million and a half.
Q: What steps do you and other amusement operators in the state take to ensure the safety of your patrons? How does New Jersey compare with other states in terms of ride safety?
Will: New Jersey is arguably within the top two in terms of their stringency in amusement oversight and regulation. Ultimately, I think for operators who are really focused on running safe operations, having good policies and procedures in place, that’s just not a problem. And I see, to a great degree, the state’s oversight as being almost a partner, so to speak, in that commitment toward safety. So, New Jersey, again, very much proactive.
They’re very aggressive in terms of design reviews. So, before a ride ever lands on this turf, the engineering is reviewed, the operational procedures are reviewed. So, there’s a very, very, robust sort of effort. And I think that’s a good thing and I think that they work in partnership. You asked a question: Over the years, how have things changed? Well, I think that the sophistication, as Jack had mentioned, of the industry, not only in rides, but also in systems, computer control ... there’s lot of opportunity now to bring about enhanced safety and also to enhance our inspection methodology.
And we’re focused very much on trying to be, very much within the top 10 percent, so to speak, within the country who are really focused and aggressive on trying to use all that technology to our advantage. But, day-in, day-out, you’ve got to have knowledge, you’ve got to care and you’ve got to really have — you’ve got to have the right staff aboard to really do the job that we all want to do.
Q: Can you envision a time when Cape May County could have a more year-round economy? What role can private businesses like yours play in that development?
Will: I do see that. Now, look, I think tourism is — will be very likely the big dog in the room, so to speak, for Cape May County. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a second, third, fourth and fifth sort of niche kind of contributor to our economy. And I ran for public office because I believed that the county needed to be more proactive in a lot of areas, in terms of developing ... I’ll call it a strategic growth plan. And I think that today, probably in many ways more than 10 years ago, there’s more opportunity for the county than there was prior, because of technology, because of mobility, because of just all the things that have changed.
So I’m really looking forward to picking up the pace with many, many smart people in this county and really talking through how do we get there, how do we bring about some of these other industries or sub-industries that will provide jobs in the community. But I’m confident that we can do it. I’m not suggesting that it will be easy or that it will be immediate, but direction is really important here and I’m excited about the prospects.
Q: If you could make any change to the city of Wildwood right now, what would it be?
Jack: I think for any city to survive what is now predictable patterns and cycles in the economy, they’ve got to continue to think long term. You know, short-term thinking is the long-term death of communities. So I don’t know if that’s a change, but it’s sort of a cautionary thing that I think that, for guys like Will and I, who hope to be here for the rest of our lives and, hopefully, our children will run the business, there’s almost never a decision that’s not a long-term decision. We just think it’s paramount for good city government.
Q: I understand plans are under way for construction of a new roller coaster. How big is this project, what investment are you making and what are the specifications for the ride, and how will it compare to other coasters in New Jersey and the country?
Jack: Well, it’s a great project. It’s really, really an exciting project. And it compares, I think, in a way that’s unique, in that it actually goes from Morey’s Surfside Pier, on the very north part of the pier, it actually goes under the pier, and then out across the Boardwalk and in front of the Sam’s Pizza facility that we all seem to know so well, and then goes on to what was originally Hunt’s Pier and runs all around there in an exciting way and then comes back again. So, I think that the leaving one pier and going to the other is really exciting. It’s a ride with a lot of energy, a lot of twists and turns. It’s a ride that the full family can enjoy. And from an investment standpoint, it’s a really gigantic investment for a company of our size. We expect the cost of this to be between $10 and $12 million.
Q: Jack, you, in particular, have embraced doo-wop, the architectural style of the 1950s- and 1960s-era motels, many of which were built by your family. What role should doo-wop play in the island’s tourism industry and has that role diminished with the demolition of so many doo-wop properties?
Jack: Tough question. I think the demolition has diminished the potential. You know, new is not — you can’t be new and be historic. Having said that, I think that the doo-wop movement was all part of the re-imaging of the town. So, while it pains me to see the level of demolition and, quite frankly, the lack of procedures and regulations, if you will, that were put in place or that were not put in place in order to help protect this very unique one-of-a-kind collection of opportunity — when I say “opportunity,” I mean economic opportunity. I mean, it’s cool, it’s old and, you know, it’s got all sorts of museum qualities, but what we’re really talking about here is, you know, the ability to prosper from these things. And so I think some mistakes were made back then, and it’s painful. But things like the Wildwood sign are a direct reaction of that.
Because as some of the preservation efforts started to slip through our fingertips, we knew that the underlying principle was that Wildwood had to be unique unto itself. By then, we had learned what its intrinsic values were. And, as I said, it was — you know, it’s the beach and this Boardwalk and it’s the collection of buildings. When you add public space to that, it says an awful lot about what the town thinks about its image. So, I think there’s a lot of potential because, in a good economy, there’s going to be a lot of building. I think the way that we steer that building has everything to do with the continued unique Wildwood and Wildwood’s personality. And I hope that the Wildwood Convention Center, the graphics on that, the new Crest band shell, the new Crest Rambler Avenue Park are all sort of indications of what Wildwood sees itself in the future.
Q: Will, you were recently elected freeholder. How does being a business owner help you in your new role?
Will: I think it’s a great — it’s interesting, because I think it’s helped both ways. I think, as a business owner, hopefully I’m able to contribute to the board not only from my experience here, but also from the experience in traveling and seeing other resort areas, other resort towns, other regions of the world. I’m hopeful that that will help me to be able to contribute to what this county and what this region can develop and become. You know, we’ve got a lot of really good people at the county. There’s no question about that.
I believe the government environment is a more difficult one and it’s not — I don’t think it’s wrong; it’s just different. And it has certain controls on it that — you know, many of which should be there. I’m not sure all of them should be there, but many of them. I think that a business background is one, hopefully, that takes into account that there are certain politics, so to speak, in decisions that need to be made. And I think one has to be politically astute, but there’s a big difference between that and being political. And I think that, ultimately, we really need to focus on where we’re trying to go and the benefits of getting there and the risks of not. And I think sometimes, in government, that can get a little diluted. And hopefully, I’m able to, maybe, turn the light up on, or turn the brightness up on the fact that, you know, there’s real meaning and value to getting to a certain place.
Q: Your organization regularly holds massive beach events such as soccer tournaments and Boy Scout events. Are there other beach activities in the works for future summers and what would you like to see the island’s municipalities do to make the most of the beach?
Will: We’re always looking for new events. And events are a little bit like baseball batting averages. You sort of pick 10; you’re lucky if you get three. So, we’re constantly recycling. Soccer has been tremendous. There’s soccer II now. Lacrosse is growing. We tried some baseball games. That didn’t work so well. We’re coming up this year with a (half) marathon, which is going all through town, the Boardwalk and a small section of the beach.
Jack: Field hockey was new this year. We expect the half marathon to be over 2,000 entrants, which is I think, a good, strong start. Our goal is to see that half marathon be in the 5,000 to 7,500 range. The events are critical to bringing new visitors to the community, for them to experience the Wildwoods. So, that’s why we are so committed to them. And the beach ... there’s a lot of opportunity on the beach ... and to use it in a responsible way, obviously, from an environmental perspective. I mean, the monster trucks have been out there. The motocross has been out there. And obviously, the city is exploring new things like the RV facilities and things like that. So, ultimately, I think we ought to work together to responsibly explore the opportunity of this massive beach of ours.
Q: Finally, what keeps you motivated? Do you continue in the business because of family obligation or have you each developed a passion for the amusement industry? Do you each have a favorite ride?
Jack: Yes to all three.
Will: What keeps you motivated?
Jack: Well, it’s a lot easier when he’s traveling overseas.
Will: Travel keeps him motivated.
Jack: Yes, it’s a true passion. As we enter our 43rd year, there’s a sense of sort of responsibility, not so much to the family, but to the — you know, to the city. We really want to see that we get this right, don’t screw it up. We want to be long-term players and sort of do the right thing. You know, it’s really big. Our favorite ride? For me, it’s always the next one.
Will: Yeah. He just doesn’t need so many ‘next ones’ so fast.
I think it’s — I mean, I agree with what Jack has said. I think that we really have an opportunity to create something unique here in the Wildwoods and here on the Wildwood Boardwalk and Morey’s Piers, and that’s exciting to me. I think what really sort of drives me is seeing this group of committed individuals working to create something that’s really exceptional. Much of that is enabled by the work that Jack does, because he just does just a fantastic job with trying to really imagine physically what the piers can be. And they’re very different places than they were years ago, and I think a lot of it has to do with (the fact that) you’ve kept your eyes open, you’ve looked around the world and you’ve sort of said the rules don’t apply — don’t have to apply.
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