The Boardwalk Business of George & Pete Haas
Spring was a time of great excitement in Ocean City. Business owners would return from their winter migrations to Florida and their sweet dreams of summer days with lots of free spending tourists would infect the whole town.
George and Pete Haas
This was the time of year that my father's sister, Pete Hitchens Haas, with husband George, and daughter Linda would come back to spend the summer in the house next door to us. Linda was about my age, so we spent a lot of time together. The time was the early 1950s until the early 1960s.
My Uncle George Haas ran several stores on the end of the boardwalk, near the inlet. The stores would evolve over the years, but they included a bathhouse, a balloon "joint", an extra large souvenir store that had been converted from a roller skating rink, and he was the original operator of Souvenir City that is still open today (under different management).
These businesses were a family operation. Grandfather Jonathan Lawrence Hitchens, my Aunt Betty Hitchens Rappaport, her husband Jack, Aunt Pete, Uncle George, Cousin Linda and me. Now Linda and I weren't really employees, we just tried to help as best we could and stay out of everybody's way the rest of the time, making a big game of the whole experience.
The bathhouse was a storefront approximately 20 feet long by 10 feet wide that was the operation central for the two shower rooms in the back of the building. These shower rooms were approximately 25x25 feet. One wall had very small lockers, another little changing rooms and numerous showers. The "day trippers" would flock in on the weekends, as there was only one other such operation in town (Showell's Bathhouse).
Linda Haas with brother David in front of the South End
Local families would drive down to Ocean City, enjoy the beach and come to Uncle George's to shower, change out of their wet swimsuits, and into dry clothing to spend the rest of their time on the boardwalk, before the long drive home at the end of the day. Pop Pop would sit on the "men's side", relieved by Uncle Jack. Aunt's Pete and Betty, Linda and I would take turns sitting on the "women's side." Visitors would deposit fifty cents for the use of the shower and locker and get a numbered key in return. When they returned the locker key, they would get a quarter refund. Linda and I would sit on tall stools to make us look older than our scant years and Pop-Pop was always there if we got into any trouble.
Next to the bathhouse was the balloon "joint." This was a 10x20-foot open area with a counter across the front. Approximately halfway behind the counter were three revolving panels. Each of these panels was covered, on both sides, with 24 clamps to which we attached helium filled balloons. This was a game where you paid 10 cents for 4 darts, the more balloons you popped the larger the prize you would win. The only two paid employees worked this boardwalk stand. One would call people over from their stroll down the boardwalk and the other would be in back, pumping balloons and replacing the ones that were popped. You guessed it, Linda and I could be counted on to "help" wherever we were needed. Uncle George didn't like Linda and I working the back room, he was always afraid we would turn the balloon panels around when someone was tossing a dart. His hard fast rule was that we weren't to turn the panels ourselves; the person out front would do that when it was safe. Of course, Linda and I would have contests to see who could replace the balloons the fastest and we played with the trinkets that were the prizes in between spins.
George Haas at the
On the east side of the boardwalk was a 10x15-foot white, board shed that was later replaced with Souvenir City. In this shed would be the dime toss. At first there were bowls with goldfish. If you were able to toss your dime in the bowl you won the bowl and the fish. If not, it fell in the bottom tray and was scooped up at the end of the day. The goldfish soon got to be too much work, so Uncle George changed to dinner plates that you could win. Several years later this shed was torn down and a bright new Souvenir City was built in its place. That first spring was a lot of work for us stocking the store with items from all over the world. Fantastic shells, and exotic jewelry would be bulk-shipped, but each item was individually wrapped in a heavy gray paper. It was always fun, not really knowing what you would unpack to stack on the shelves.
Next to the balloon "joint" was a roller skating rink, when they went out of business Uncle George rented the space for a huge 75 foot squared warehouse-like souvenir shop. This building is now a fun house ride. You would enter the store through a ten-foot entranceway from the boardwalk and be dazzled with the choice of merchandise. On the left, as you went in, was the counter with the cash register, usually Aunt Pete would be sitting there. Manning the cash register was one job Linda and I were not to even think about. There were rows of long eight foot tables loaded with all sorts of toys, games, souvenirs and jewelry. In the back of the store were shelves full of nightlights. We would spend the early spring days making these nightlights for the store, usually several hundred, and then we would make more in August, when the supply would dwindle. I could never understand the tourists' attraction to these nightlights but they sold for $5.00 and up and went like hotcakes.
David Haas at at the games
I particularly remember putting together these shell nightlights. Aunt Pete would mix the plaster of Paris with coloring; we would set out the 2-inch thick hoops to be filled with the plaster. Uncle George was next in the assembly line, he would drill holes in tropical conch shells and put a nightlight inside them, Linda and I would be in charge of the artistic end. The large conch shells would be centered in the back of the nightlight and we would place other shells and plastic trinkets that were printed with Ocean City, Maryland in the wet plaster. This was quick drying plaster so our assembly line was always in motion. Aunt Pete would say "Carole, you're putting too many shells in the hoop, but Uncle George would say "leave her alone, those are pretty, and we can get a few more dollars for them." My artistic talents were born!!! Funny, but whenever I smell plaster I'm taken back to those joyous, carefree days of running the boardwalk.
Linda Haas is pictured in front of the boardwalk arrow game.
On the left side of the store, as you entered from the boardwalk, was a "Make It Yourself" jewelry counter. This long 8-foot counter was covered with small 6", all the same, size boxes. The boxes would each have a different type of polished shell, colorful beads, miniature sea horses or starfish and the plastic earring backings with the clips attached. You would pay a few cents for each article and glue them together to make your own earrings. When Linda and I would start running around the store like wild Indians and causing the toys to break, Uncle George would put us to work making earrings. Now this was before the days of glue guns so we would get pretty sticky. It was always fun, later on, to watch and listen to the tourists ooh and aah over the jewelry Linda and I had made, never once suspecting a 7 and 8 year old had put them together.
The Haas Family also had a french fries stand .
There was never the feeling of work; it was just the extended family in a half-playing type of atmosphere. If you got tired you could always sit down next to Pop-Pop and he would pat you on the head. As you sat there, you could hear the music coming from Trimper's Rides: the Ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, and the merry-go-round. If they weren't too busy, Granville Trimper would let Linda and I have a few free rides.
Next door to Uncle George's boardwalk stands was a string pull booth. The person in charge would take your dime and present you with a selection of a hundred colored strings. At the end of each string was tied a different trinket that you couldn't see until you pulled the string. Linda and I would always pester Aunt Pete for dimes so we could "find a real treasure."
In the early years it was strictly families that strolled the boardwalk in their "Sunday Best" clothes, a very calm, relaxing atmosphere. Later on though, during the time of the Hippies, more unescorted young people flocked to the boardwalk, and it was a battle to keep an eye out for people stealing merchandise. About this same time I discovered boys and the boardwalk then lost some of its luster for me.
George Haas on the Boardwalk
in Ocean City
George Haas & niece Joan
at the Goldfish Games