Anniversaries are special, especially in a family town like Ocean City. Celebrating a long time in business by the waves is a big accomplishment, after all. Ocean City’s was founded in 1879 (that’s 142 years ago), and businesses started to form not long after. Some things change over the years, yet others stay the same. If you’ve been coming to Ocean City your whole life, even if you’re approaching 100… there are some establishments that have been there the entire time.
Though only a few are celebrating their centennial… there are so many other noteworthy anniversaries. This year, among others, the Port-O-Call is celebrating their 55th, Manco and Manco is celebrating their 60th, Pessano’s is turning 75, Fudge Kitchen is turning 50, and Island Grill is turning 25. This story is part of a longer series highlighting the history and achievements of these beloved businesses.
Using a sewing machine and reading a book became popular ways to cope with the trials of 2020. Sewing machines made us feel less helpless. By making masks, there was a meaningful task to put our time and energy into. Reading books was also a way of making time pass faster by jetting our spirits off to other worlds while keeping our physical bodies safe. Two local businesses saw an upsweep in their business in the past year. This year, they celebrate anniversaries – Dollard-Baker Sew Vac turns 100, and The Bookateria Two turns 45.
Dollard-Baker Sew Vac
“My grandfather started Dollard-Baker Sew Vac in 1921 with treadle sewing machines. It’s a non-electric sewing machine that you pump with your feet. It makes the sewing machine go,” said John Dollard, owner.
In 1921, sewing machines were a big deal.
“Sewing machines were state of the art. It was the newest computer. If anyone wanted to make clothes back then, they would sew them by hand. He would sell those treadle sewing machines and deliver them in Model Ts,” said John.
Their Marmora location wasn’t their only location. Their Pleasantville store was around in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
“We were always in Atlantic City and Pleasantville. Then along came my era. I went into the Army when I was 17 and got out when I was 20 and that’s when I hooked up with my dad and started repairing sewing machines. It was enough to earn a living,” John said.
His dad died in 1975.
“I continued on. It was a very depressing time through the ‘70s but we got through. In 1980 I picked up a job as well as being in the sewing machine business and I became a cop. It’s one of the reasons that I’m able to work through downtimes,” said John.
It was called Dollard’s until 2002.
“I kept Atlantic City open until 2003. In 2003, I bought Baker’s. Baker was an established sewing machine and vacuum business in Marmora. When I bought it, I renamed the business.”
In 2020, they saw an unexpected business boom.
“Last year was our best year ever. A lot of businesses suffered. We had the repair service for sewing machines. When people were locked in their houses, they were making masks. We would order crates of elastic that were 5000 yards. People were lined up out the door.”
The first crate of 5000 yards of elastic they ordered sold in 23 hours.
“It’s our employees who keep things going. I have a good group of people who keep it going.”
John is looking to pass the torch.
“It sort of crept up, 100 years. I’m 71 and I have to start looking to ease on out. I’m getting tired. I was out repairing a central vac today in someone’s crawl space. It’s time for me to sit back and smell the roses.”
The Bookateria Two
“It is nice to sit on the beach and read a book. I help to provide that service,” said Woody Robinson, owner of The Bookateria Two.
He estimates that he has 25,000 books.
“If I don’t have it today, someone could bring it in tomorrow,” said Woody.
He started The Bookateria Two by chance. The original Bookateria was in Newark, Delaware. “I was in between jobs. I had money in a bank and the friend who had the store down in Delaware said, ‘If you ever want to get started I can help you get started’. I’m the only Bookateria left,” Woody said.
Bookateria Two didn’t always have the children’s room in the back.
“Originally, that’s where I lived. I rented the storefront and the efficiency apartment. There was a door there and the store was here and I lived back there. It was inexpensive.” “At that time my (now) wife was working in Ocean City. I found a place, we opened up, and we just did summers for the first three to five years. I did another job in the winter to earn money. Then it became year ‘round.”
Woody’s done his best to keep up with the trends over the years. At one point in time, he was well known for his stock of the Baby-Sitters Club series.
“Baby-Sitters Club is funny in that I used to have a lot of them. They were in the back room on the bottom shelf. When hurricane Sandy hit, we got three or four inches of water, enough that the bottom row got wiped out. All of the Baby-Sitters Club got wiped out. People kept asking ‘Where are all of the BabySitters Club? You used to have a whole shelf.’”
Woody estimates that he gets in between 200 and 300 books per day in the middle of summer. He used to keep some to read.
“I stopped taking them because I have a couple hundred that I still haven’t read yet. Each year, I read less and less because the store is busier and busier. Even though it sounds like a great job working in the bookstore, I personally do not read any books from the middle of May to October. I used to try,” said Woody.
He sees customers of all ages.
The greatest thing is when the grandfather who’s been a customer for years brings the children and the grandchildren,” Woody said. “All ages come in, there’s still all ages reading books.”
Find this story and more in our July magazine.