Businesses pass to new generation

OCEAN CITY — OCEAN CITY - The way 24-year-old Anna Dolle sees it, she and her brother Andrew, 21, must have inherited some kind of Boardwalk gene - "a predisposition to candy making and working weird hours."

Oh, they both went off to college. Anna earned an anthropology degree at American University, then worked for the Smithsonian Institution. Andrew tried the academic life for a couple of semesters at nearby Salisbury University.


But it was inevitable, they believe, that the pair headed back to the same corner at Wicomico Avenue and the beach where the Dolle family has been concocting saltwater taffy, caramel corn and other treats since 1910.

"I guess I just got tired of wearing pantyhose and dressing up for work every day," says Anna, who runs most of the retail operation at Dolle's Candyland.


"I just decided I wanted to come home to Ocean City and wear flip-flops. This is something that's ingrained, we grew up in it."

Maryland's only beach town was built by a handful of families like the Dolles, who have steered the resort from its Victorian beginnings to a time when 8 million tourists fuel a $2 billion-a-year industry.

Now, in this era of anonymous corporate ownership, Ocean City is seeing younger generations of old-line families - not to mention a core of "newcomers" who arrived 30 or 40 years ago - carrying on a Boardwalk oligarchy which defines this big city that remains a small town at heart.

"My dad brought me down here when I was 12 to pack saltwater taffy and sweep the floors," says Rudolph "Bunky" Dolle, 54, whose grandfather gave up running a carousel to buy into the candy business where the fourth generation is being eased in to run the place.

"My dad never pushed me and I never pushed my kids. This is just where we want to be."

Down the Boardwalk, the Trimper clan can rightfully lay claim as one of Ocean City's first families. Daniel and Margaret Trimper, German immigrants who moved from Baltimore in 1890, staked out what is now the southernmost three blocks of the Boardwalk, and the family has been there ever since.

According to one often-repeated story, Rudolph Dolle was recruited to the beach nearly a century ago by Daniel Trimper, who needed help with a carousel. Dolle bought a candy business a few years later.

These days, 75-year-old Granville Trimper still puts in 15-hour shifts, supervising the conglomeration of arcades, amusement rides, shops, a restaurant and motel that dominates what city planners and preservationists have taken to calling "Old Ocean City."


Trimper's son and two daughters and their spouses have worked in the business since they were young. Four grandchildren who've finished college are working full time for Trimper Amusements, and three others who are still in high school and college have part-time jobs.

Trimper, a ubiquitous presence who surveys the sprawling enterprise nightly during the summer, is the perennial spokesman who has patiently recited his family history for countless newspaper and television stories over the years.

This summer, when cable television's Travel Channel came to town, the on-camera interviews were handled by one of Trimper's grandsons.

"It's always been the same kind of fun business for my children and grandchildren that it has been for me," Trimper says. "I still enjoy being down here, but more and more, they're taking over management of the company."

Mayor James N. Mathias Jr., a tireless civic cheerleader and the latest in a trio of chief executives who recognized the value of marketing the beach town, says a multigenerational base of tourists melds perfectly with the continuity found in so many of the resort's longtime businesses.

"I've only been here 30 years; I'm still referred to as a 'come-here,'" says Mathias, who leases space for a Boardwalk T-shirt shop in the Dolle building. "If there's a last vestige of Americana, this is it. The whole notion of the beach is nostalgia, and that's what we're based on."


Beyond the blare of the Boardwalk arcades, the Conner family - whose roots go back to 1886 when George Conner built Ocean City's first restaurant - has held firm to Santa Maria Motel, one of a half-dozen properties amassed by his widow, Willye Ludlum.

Like all of her grandmother's business ventures, Lauren Taylor says, building the elegant Santa Maria on 15th Street was a bold move, the first of many bold moves on undeveloped sites "up the beach" and one that foreshadowed a wave of motel construction in the 1950s and 1960s.

Nearly 50 years since it was built, Taylor runs the landmark motel and restaurant with her brother Edmund Conner, her sons and a nephew. She credits their success to a combination of hands-on experience and a solid theoretical foundation provided to six family members who graduated with degrees in hotel management from Cornell University.

"You really don't have the luxury of being an absentee owner in this kind of business," says Taylor, who works from a cluttered office in an unmarked corner of the Santa Maria. "It's really like an old farm family where you need all the hands, and everybody has to work."

Bill Gibbs says his six-restaurant Dough Roller operation qualifies as an extended family business, one that includes his three sons, as well as three other employees he called "adopted sons" who have worked for him since they were teen-agers. All are listed in the corporate profile as general managers and, like Gibbs, none is hesitant about jumping into the kitchen to help handle a rush.

Gibbs, 54, whose grandmother ran rooming houses in town and worked for 55 years for the Dolle family, got his start at 5, hawking newspapers on the Boardwalk in front of the Breakers Hotel.


As a teen-ager, Gibbs rented beach chairs and umbrellas, then worked in a Boardwalk pizza shop. At age 23, he opened his own pizza place and at 31 bought the Breakers.

"I knew from my own experience that there weren't enough places to eat on the Boardwalk," says Gibbs. "The first thing I did after I bought the Breakers was to put in a restaurant in the front."

Like his father, who left the beach to earn a history degree and play basketball at Western Georgia University, 28-year-old Gary Gibbs thought for a while about another career. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.New York, but he did not tarry long in that field.

"I think family businesses these days are fairly rare, and it's hard to give up living by the ocean," says Gary.

"I got my first engineering job and I made it through the month of June, but all I could think of all day was the beach."