Jody Levchuk, whose family owns the iconic Jilly’s businesses including the newest venture, Jilly’s Candy Factory, knows a bit about managing businesses on the Boardwalk to say the least.
His parents opened Jilly’s Arcade back in 1976. Since then, the family has amassed nine stores, which feature everything from food to T-Shirts.
February may seem like a quiet month for the 150 stores that line the family-friendly Boardwalk.
But that is just an illusion.
At least when it comes to the work that goes into featuring top merchandise, novelties and of course, food for visitors and residents alike, according to Levchuk and Wes Kazmarck, president of the Boardwalk Merchants Association.
Not to mention the fact that many stores are open daily or on weekends during the offseason.
“We are open for business now. The arcade is open daily. The T-shirt Factory is open daily. And the candy factory is open on weekends,” Levchuk said of some of the Levchuk-owned businesses.
His recipe for success, with the help of his brother Randy and parents, is simple, he said.
“Jilly’s is a major attraction because we offer a wide variety of family fun, food and shopping. The beach, Boardwalk and its businesses are the city’s largest assets and reasons folks visit Ocean City,” Levchuk, married with two daughters, noted.
Kazmarck, co-owner of Surf Mall with his brother, Chris, echoed Levchuk’s sentiments.
The two entrepreneurs grew up in families who owned Boardwalk businesses. Kazmarck’s family owned motels in Ocean City since the 1950s. He opened his first Boardwalk business in 2002. While Levchuk and him are technically competitors, they are also friends, they both said.
Kazmarck, who has headed the merchants association for 11 years, is also a member of the city’s Tourism Development Commission.
He said he has seen a positive trend in Boardwalk business over recent years.
“More and more, the Boardwalk is becoming a year-round place to enjoy and shop. At this point, if there is a nice weekend about two-thirds of the Boardwalk businesses are open,” he said.
He added that in the spring locals take advantage of sales on the prior year’s merchandise, before new inventory fills the shelves.
“I think Ocean City, because of the way it is branded, and the traditions we have, we expect every year to be a banner year,” he noted. “Sometimes the economy or the weather have an impact on that. But we all expect a good year, every year.”
Boardwalk businesses are different than traditional year-round shops. It is seasonal, albeit the season seems to be growing, he said.
“Our industry is so unique. We are trying to catch lightening in a bottle. We spend nine months preparing for six really strong weeks from July 1 to the middle of August,” Kazmarck pointed out.
He continued, “You are trying to make money in a small amount of time, and you have to put it away,” he said. “Our business is intense. We are trying to make the Super Bowl every year. It is exciting and it can be stressful.”
The Philadelphia market is Ocean City’s “bread and butter,” he said.
During a Tourism Commission meeting last week, Kazmarck brought up the notion of focusing on the North Jersey market to attract new clientele.
Members said they would take it into consideration and possibly do some social media pushes to target those areas.
In addition, the shoulder season, packed with city-sponsored events, helps Boardwalk businesses, he said.
He said many Boardwalk shops open during event those days and also in good weather days during the offseason.
Both Levchuk and Kazmarck said they are anxious for summer season.
They both grew up going to their parents’ Boardwalk businesses and they know the potential for great success.
“There are a lot of wonderful things to do off the beach and Boardwalk,” Levchuk said. “However, it is the Boardwalk that is the heart of the town.”
Kazmarck added to that thought, “I think most towns want to be Ocean city. We have our family tradition niche. Certainly and we have wonderful Boardwalk.”
He continued, “We have to keep reminding people we have such a great thing here and they have to come for a visit because we will give them a wonderful, memorable experience.”