Crowds Get Glimpse of Downtown's Great Hope: Stainton's
The new gallery of shops opens its doors during the Spring Block Party.
The crowds at the outdoor Spring Block Party had more than 375 crafters to check out, but one of the biggest attractions of the event was under the roof of Stainton's: a new gallery of shops that shares the name of the landmark department store that anchored the downtown for 83 years before closing in 1995.
The new Stainton's has scheduled a grand opening for May 19 in the 100th anniversary year of the landmark building. But the new owners opened the doors to the new gallery on Saturday to give shoppers a sample of what's to come and to test systems in a soft opening.
Stainton's features more than 70 boutiques arranged on the 22,000-square-foot first floor of the Stainton's building. The vendors offer a mix of merchandise from apparel to woodcraft. But Stainton's biggest offering is the hope of becoming a new main attraction drawing shoppers year-round to Ocean City's downtown.
"I didn't know this was here," said Maura Reilly, of Jenkintown, PA. "But it's all very nice."
Reilly had picked up a scarf and was uncertain where to pay for the item. The vendors at the new Stainton's share a central cashier's station run by the management. Vendors are responsible for stocking and maintaining their 10-by-10-foot spaces.
Nicole Foxman, marketing director for Stainton's, said she's reluctant to describe the new store as a co-op, because that might be too closely associated with the "F word": flea market. She said the key to success for Stainton's will be maintaining a variety of high-end and unique merchandise.
Neither the customers nor the merchandise on display Saturday would be confused with flea-market fare. Spring Block Party visitors browsed displays of everything from sailboat replicas to original artwork. A small lunch counter with flat-screen TVs served shoppers in the back of the new gallery.
"I think people like that hub-type shopping," said Marcia Shallcross, executive director of Main Street Ocean City.
Shallcross sees the Stainton's as a key part of a unique opportunity this summer for revitalizing the downtown.
The new $400 million causeway will open this month, channeling visitors to the doorstep of Ocean City's downtown on Ninth Street. Main Street Ocean City a month away from unveiling a new marketing campaign promoting Ocean City as a place to "Shop, Dine and Unwind Year-Round." The city has promised to provide public restrooms to downtown visitors. And Stainton's could be the draw that makes Ocean City's downtown a destination.
Shallcross said Stainton's is spending a lot to market the shops and that the gallery will maintain evening hours.
"When a few make that commitment, that feeds off itself," she said.
New stores such as Uncle Joonies Steak and Shake, Yoasis Frozen Yogurt and Sandra and Roy's are open on the Avenue, and others such as a downtown location for Ocean City Coffee Company, Pink Mermaid, Old to You, Happy Days and the Zen Den are on the way, according to Shallcross.
Stainton's is already a part of a shift in the downtown, she said, noting that Stainton's has power-washed sidewalks, painted, landscaped and scheduled bus trips to bring shoppers in.
"They've gone over and above," Shallcross said.
Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michele Gillian sees the same opportunity that Shallcross does — with the new bridge, work on the City Hall Annex property, new marketing campaigns and new wayfinding signs all coming together with the arrival of Stainton's.
"We really look forward to promoting downtown as well as the three Bs (beach, bay and boardwalk)," Gillian said.
"Stainton's is an important part of the whole formula," she said.