The marketing challenge for Ocean City’s downtown businesses has long been to get visitors thinking of shopping bags rather than just beach bags.
A new, grant-funded initiative aims to do that through an array of advertising both locally and across the state that focuses on dozens of events and nearly 150 small shops along Asbury Avenue.
“The goal is to get the message out that we’re not just a boardwalk and beach community,” said Bill Baumler, owner of the Potomac Bead Co. franchise in the city. “We’re the whole package.”
Using a $20,000 grant from the Main Street New Jersey program, Main Street Ocean City spent the past six months looking at how to best promote itself and bring in a consistent clientele all year round.
Executive Director Marcia Shallcross said that process led to a more focused advertising campaign than ever before. A new website will launch in July, and magazine advertisements, car magnets, billboards and more will follow.
The group held an event Thursday night to mark the launch of the campaign, and they have already distributed pamphlets and T-shirts to businesses to spread the word.
One of the main goals will be to attract more people in the off-season, and Shallcross said they think they can do that by simply letting people know they are open in the fall and winter.
“Even when you can’t go in the ocean, you can come to Ocean City,” she said.
The slogan on the new business and event guide available now at downtown shops is “Shop. Dine. Unwind. Year Round.” The T-shirts read “What’s In The Bag?” and will be a phrase to make people think to ask about what’s coming up in the city.
The initiative begins at a time when many new businesses have opened recently along the strip from Sixth Street to 11th Street, chief among them the massive Stainton’s building that holds dozens of shops by itself.
The new promotions will aim to build on that progress.
“We hope this is what really kicks it in,” said Baumler.
Cherry Hill-based Cindy Williams Design was a consultant and designer for the project. The company did similar work for Hammonton’s Main Street program, and Shallcross said there will be similarities between the promotional work there and what’s done in Ocean City.
Julie Gunn, co-owner of Gabrielle & Co., owns shops in Ocean City and Hammonton, and she said what has worked in reviving Hammonton’s downtown has been getting support from a broad spectrum of the community.
“They very much work as a team,” she said. “They have huge buy-in from the city, from the merchants, and from some of the prominent local residents. They have a nice volunteer base that helps out and does a lot of things.”
Another common denominator has been bringing in arts events such as shows, demonstrations and classes, something both towns have been doing more of lately.
Lisa Patella, owner of JaTori’s Gems on Asbury Avenue in Ocean City, said that making sure people know that those events and others continue through the off-season will be key to the downtown’s success.
“As long as they know what we have, they will come,” she said.
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