When I had my shop on the Boardwalk in the 1960s and '70s, December was my worst month. This was also true of the hotels, which were empty during December weekends. But the hotels represented an unused resource for which I devised a program that ended up benefiting all.
The plan was simple. I invited any couple, on my mailing list or not, to be my guest for a two-night weekend at any of the Boardwalk hotels. I picked up the cost of the hotel, and I threw a party on Saturday night for my guests. Those invited were not obligated to spend even one cent in my shop; indeed, they were not even obligated to stop by.
The response was tremendous. Around 2,000 people came for each of the four December weekends and turned what had been dead time for the Boardwalk into one of the best weekends of the year. All of the other Boardwalk shops benefited since it was just before Christmas, and the occasion gave folks an easy and relaxed way to do their season's shopping.
My cost for each couple was about $50 since the hotels recognized that a filled room at a break-even price would generate business for them in food and drink. It did, and all the hotels reported a successful and profitable weekend.
The people whom I had invited and who were not required to spend anything ended up spending $500,000 in my shop for each of the four weekends. And that was when a half-million dollars was real money. That one little idea turned out to be worth a fortune for the Boardwalk, and I continued the program until the day I left Atlantic City.
Certainly a similar December promotion could be mounted today to take advantage of the unused hotel rooms in Atlantic City in December. It could be a joint program in which the initial very-small costs per couple would not be borne by only one shop, but by all Boardwalk businesses, the hotels and the casinos, with perhaps a small assist from the state.
In my case, my shop earned $200 in business for each $1 we fronted. Pretty good odds. I do not expect returns like this today, but even a dollar-for-dollar return with no cost to anyone would be worth the national press that Atlantic City would garner.
The trick is to give people something real and valuable and require no return except what the goodwill of the participants would generate. I would be happy to organize it for free. All I will need is a small staff and an assurance that all who will benefit will contribute.
Reese Palley, who billed himself as the "merchant to the rich," operated an art gallery on the Boardwalk in the pre-casino era.