Nostalgia may be the biggest seller at the South Jersey Shore, but businesses must try to bring in something new each year if they are to thrive. Sometimes it happens organically - one reality show invades every novelty shop - but it's often more a balancing act between serving up memories and staying trendy, between enticing customers back and persuading them to stay. Whether it's roller coasters or a rib sauce recipe, Shore entrepreneurs are always juggling the past and present.
"There are always rides, but there has to be at least one new one every year. There are always T-shirts, but they can't be the same one every year," said Michael Busler, associate professor and a fellow at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College. He studies the Shore and its economic trends. "The idea in marketing is to get someone to come to the boardwalk year after year, but always ready to buy something new to distinguish that year from the others."
Morey's Piers, comprising the three main amusement piers along the Wildwood boardwalk, has tempted the nostalgic fates by disassembling the Giant Slide at Surfside Pier, which was the first ride that patriarch Will Morey Sr. erected and operated in 1969. In an era of water parks and coasters, the Giant Slide, despite its sentimental cred, was considered antiquated.
New this year - the Moreys try to have one new ride each summer - will be "it" (that's the name) at 25th Street and the Boardwalk. Capsules appropriately shaped like headache medicine hold as many as 24 riders, who are hurled in a 65-foot arc while spinning.
As for what those riders will be wearing this summer, they likely will - even still - be donning T-shirts emblazoned with quotations from Jersey Shore, MTV's highest-rated show ever.
Two of the better sellers so far have been shirts with either "Cool Story, Bro" (attributed to Ronnie) or "Yeah, Buddy" (by DJ Pauly D) in white or pink lettering, according to Brent Hanley, owner of the Shirt Shack on the Ocean City boardwalk. Of all the T-shirts he sells, 15 to 20 percent are Jersey Shore-themed.
"I know Jersey Shore is getting a bit older now, but it is still popular to people who come down here," said Hanley. For both men and women, the favored style is off-the-shoulder Ts or crop tops. "I'm thinking that is Jersey Shore, too."
At Jilly's shirt and novelty shops, Roy Halladay's No. 34 shirt is still the most popular among Phillies wear, despite all the hoopla over Cliff Lee's return this summer. "I get a lot of Lees and [Ryan] Howards," said clerk Adam Nittinger, "but Halladay spans the age groups."
Usually current events spur T-shirt trends, but no favorite has emerged yet this summer, said professor Busler. Perhaps the killing of Osama bin Laden is a bit too grim even for Shore shirt enthusiasts.
"I think next year, in an election year, there will be more pro- and anti-whoever. Presidential candidates seem to inspire T-shirt trends," said Busler.
The same seems true for boardwalk game prizes, à la Kewpie dolls. Like last year, South Park dolls and those from the movie Despicable Me, which came out in July 2010, will still be abundant when you score in skee ball.
"Sometimes there just isn't something big enough, which is why we are sticking with the Minion" from Despicable Me, said Morey's spokeswoman Lindsey Young.
Foodwise, the staples tend to rule - custard, pizza, funnel cake, and anything mondo-caloric. Worth noting, though, is Morey's new addition: french fries with Old Bay seasoning and some with a Cuban spice to dip in cilantro sauce.
Perhaps now that Chickie's and Pete's is on the boardwalk, there could be a french fry-off?
"I think it would be great to have a Battle of the Fry," said Young. "Something old - fries - but something new - whatever we both come up with."