WILDWOOD – This is a Shore town with a reputation as an almost-anything-goes kind of place – famous for its racy T-shirts sold on the boardwalk and annual debauch known as Senior Week. It is also a place where town leaders are still determining the fine line between what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t.
You can certainly sport one of those off-color T-shirts on a boardwalk stroll. But just make sure your pants are pulled up or you’ll risk a fine under a droopy drawers law.
Coming for Senior Week? If you’re under the legal drinking age in New Jersey, don’t even think about entering one of the town’s five dozen bars or liquor stores. Measures to cut down on underage drinking here have been heavily enforced for more than a decade.
So when the town fathers recently passed on allowing the return of electronic dance music (EDM) raves, which attracted tens of thousands of fans to two beach concerts last summer and which apparently offended others within earshot with cursing and explicit lyrics, it was the latest line drawn in the sand, contends Mayor Ernie Troiano.
“I think we’ve spent a long time crawling out of a very deep valley of debauchery and partying here. . . . We’ve reinvented ourselves to be a happy place for families and anyone else that wants to come here and enjoy themselves,” said Troiano, noting that Wildwood had 54 active liquor licenses within its borders.
Allowing more EDM concerts this summer could have been “a major shift back to those dark days,” Troiano said.
Local business owners and others told city officials they didn’t want the concerts to return, especially on a holiday weekend – one was held on the July Fourth weekend last summer – because they created traffic and crowd issues during an already busy season.
“There was a lot of swearing coming from the DJs during those concerts, and it really upset some of our patrons who had come to the resort with little children to enjoy the boardwalk and the rides,” said Jack Morey, who owns and operates Morey’s Piers with his brother, Will. “It just does not fit with the image that Wildwood is about these days. Yes, we love quirky, we love tacky, but we don’t love events that are not family friendly or make people feel unsafe in our town.”
Morey said even events such as the annual fall Irish Festival had evolved from a “drinking in the streets” kind of event to family-oriented festivity that includes a parade and other activities.
“Over time, I think as a town, as destination, we have evolved as a place that does have boundaries and that does have limits as to what is acceptable here and what isn’t,” Morey said. “Yeah, we’re a little quirky and a little tacky and we’re proud of it, but there are levels of sophistication nuanced in there. It’s not a place where there is no decorum and no expectation of how people should act responsibly.”
But raves haven’t been the only events and activities officials have employed to try to attract crowds – in season and in the off-season – to what is commonly marketed as “The Wildwoods,” the towns of Wildwood, North Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest.
Troiano and other local officials have tried to varying degrees of success various ways of using the town’s crown jewel – its uber-wide sand strand that is unlike any other along the Jersey Shore.
They have offered beach horseback riding, camping, volleyball and other sporting tournaments, and huge concerts like one three years ago that brought thousands to the beach to see country singer Kenny Chesney.
Off the beach, there are bridal shows, tattoo trade shows, basketball tournaments, and other events to pack them into the Wildwood Convention Center.
“If you look at Wildwood’s events calendar, you certainly find an ambitious schedule of concerts, shows, events, exhibits, and attractions to get people into the town, probably a list bigger than any other Jersey Shore town,” said Brian Tyrell, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management studies at Stockton University. “I think that is part of their appeal to the masses and the way they have marketed themselves away from just being a party town over the past decade.”
Tyrell said towns like Wildwood need to continually upgrade and update their offerings to continue to attract tourists.
“There is competition for tourism dollars, and destinations need to stay ahead of the curve to keep bringing in the visitors,” Tyrell said. “In the case of Wildwood, it’s not a matter of reinventing itself so much as reinvesting in itself year after year.”
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