Last week, countless signs welcoming a flood of OC BikeFest motorcyclists with open arms were seen from one end of Ocean City to the other.
Now, while remnants of the signs remain at some spots, many of those same businesses are going dark, shutting down early and blocking parking areas to avoid the droves of tuner cars expected to take over the resort’s streets and paved lots for this weekend’s unsanctioned — and heavily unwelcome — pop-up car rally.
“After this weekend, the biker’s weekend, which was very successful, … we’re going to take a break,” said Shawn Harman, the owner of Fish Tales on 21st Street, of the reason he chose to close his doors from 5 p.m. Friday to 11 a.m. Monday.
“And the traffic’s so bad that people (staff) that leave here at night at 2 in the morning may not get home until 4 or 5,” he continued. “If they live in Ocean Pines and they have to be back here at 11, it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Harman closed both Fish Tales bar and restaurant and the marina during last year’s car event as well, and had no regrets about the decision.
“It’s not so much about them and us, as it is them out there,” he said of the thousands of frequently unruly car enthusiasts expected to come to town.
He added that the event, which city and law enforcement officials sharply oppose in its current form, used to be sanctioned and much more tolerable. But when younger owners took it over in the last few years with their highly modified compact cars, it became relatively unbearable for businesses and property owners.
“The original people, from when it was a sanctioned event, were always very good,” Harman said. “But then when it got hijacked by the tuner cars, they were put in a bad light I think.”
Up Coastal Highway, Macky’s Bar and Grill on 54th Street served its last meals and drinks for the 2021 season last weekend, closing slightly earlier than originally planned and just in time for the pop-up rally. Places like Longboard Cafe on 67th and Buxy’s Salty Dog Saloon on 28th are also set to reduce their hours and close earlier than usual this weekend, a trend that several businesses jumped on last year as well.
And because of the stress and demand the busy weekend tends to have on law enforcement officers, the owners of Bull on the Beach on both 94th Street and Second Street on the Boardwalk are offering free meals for those on the front lines.
Brad Wells, the bar manager of the Second Street location, said they are offering free lunch to law enforcement officers Thursday through Sunday. The deal includes a free turkey, ham, barbecue or roast beef sandwich, and a side and soda.
“Just to make their life better this weekend, because it’s not going to be easy,” Wells said of the sentiment behind the offering.
In past years, officers have been forced to work above and beyond to keep peace and order as car enthusiasts wreak havoc on the roads and in parking lots across the resort.
Wells said he plans to keep the regular hours at the Second Street location, which now closes at 8 p.m. anyway because of staffing strains, and that the 94th Street spot will “play it by ear” and see how Friday goes to determine the hours for the rest of the weekend.
“They do have a parking lot there that seems to be an attraction to these kids,” he said. “If things start to go awry, they will shut down Saturday.”
Some local Airbnb owners also posted on social media stating they were taking their rentals off the market this weekend, while several hotels are jacking up their rates.
Susan Jones, the executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel Restaurant Association, said in an email that only 18 of the organization’s 120 lodging members were sold out as of earlier this week with many reporting “plenty of vacancies.”
She added that she has heard from some other business owners who have reported employees calling out in anticipation of the mayhem and she expects to see more businesses, like Macky’s, close early for the season.
“If you recall, last year, the police had to re-route traffic and I believe at one point, Route 90 bridge was closed, so that certainly affects employee travel to and from work,” Jones said. “The biggest impact will be if businesses can get staffing – if they can’t, given that most everyone had an incredible summer, I would envision some just closing.”