By MADDY VITALE
Soon, shoppers may have no need to drive to Philadelphia or Cherry Hill to buy upscale apparel, skin care, specialty foods and home decor.
In fact, this Friday, Ocean City’s landmark former Crown Bank building at 801 Asbury Ave. will open to patrons who long for some extra special, one-of-a-kind and higher-end merchandise than they may have seen along the popular shopping district that stretches from Sixth Street to 13th Street.
Nine businesses will open at the new Shoppes at The Asbury in the old bank building. They will be open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“I’ve been here for six years, and I’ve thought about what is missing on Asbury Avenue and what people are looking for,” explained Bridget Jacobson, director of operations for Shoppes at The Asbury.
Jacobson and her husband, Brad Jacobson, the general manager, also run Stainton’s Gallery of Shops on Asbury Avenue across the street from the new location as well as Stainton’s by the Sea, which opened on the Boardwalk last summer.
“I am also looking to elevate some of the shopping on Asbury and hopefully bring a new customer, someone who may have shopped in Cherry Hill or Philadelphia or up in New York,” Bridget Jacobson said.
The nearly 100-year-old former Crown Bank building will be transformed into boutique-style shops. Each vendor will have a table or two, or even four, Jacobson said.
While the price-points for some of the merchandise will be a bit above some of the norm on the avenue, Jacobson noted it is all about quality and uniqueness.
“Here is the opportunity to rediscover Asbury Avenue. When you come and shop at The Asbury, you’re going to stop and have lunch. You’re going to take a stroll down the avenue and check out the other shops that are now encompassing Sixth Street to 13th Street,” she said.
The owners of the building are Raj and Yogi Khatiwala, local brothers. They also own Stainton’s Gallery of Shops and Stainton’s by the Sea. They purchased the former Crown Bank building out of bankruptcy in February, saving it from auction.
“We are hoping that the Shoppes at The Asbury will bring a unique, upscale experience that will complement the luxury, boutique hotel projects that we have been adding to Ocean City,” Raj Khatiwala said.
The brothers purchased the building and its adjacent parking lots for $6.675 million and decided to dedicate the first floor to retail space. They also kept the current tenant, Second Chance Boutique, but moved that shop to a portion of the second floor. The remaining part of the second floor up to the sixth floor is for office space.
Currently, there is a waiting list of merchants who would like to become a part of Shoppes at The Asbury.
Jacobson said she is certain there will be plenty from the merchants going in the new shopping venue to please customers.
Jacobson, vice president of the Downtown Merchants Association, spoke with merchants and people on the avenue about what they would like to see.
Some of the merchants who own stores in Stainton’s Gallery of Shops and other shops on the avenue are opening a location in The Asbury. The shops so far are Bece Beauty, Gypsy Lane Home, White Bear Children’s Boutique, Seagrass Boutique Women’s, Flirt Lingerie, 8th & Crown Men’s, Timberlane Handcrafted, Oliver & the Sea Accessories and Diving Horse Handbags.
In addition to high-end men’s and women’s clothing, there will be a merchant with a skin care and cosmetics shop. There will also be a lingerie and hosiery shop, cutlery and specialty foods and an upscale children’s boutique, as well as a shop that features home decor. One merchant makes handbags out of leather, cork and wax.
Each shop owner has merchandise and specialty items that give customers high-end, and in some cases, one-of-a-kind pieces, Jacobson said.
While the main goal is to attract shoppers and bring more business to downtown Ocean City, it is also about helping small business owners, Jacobson explained.
“When Raj and Yogi came to me and mentioned they had an opportunity across the street (from Stainton’s Gallery of Shops) and asked what I thought of putting a retail location in there, I thought it was amazing,” she said. “We are trying to foster growth and keep the downtown thriving. You come here to shop downtown year round and you will find everything you need.”
Shoppes at The Asbury will not only give a boost to already established business owners who are opening a second location, but also help people who are opening their first location, Jacobson said.
“We consider ourselves incubators for small businesses,” she said. “We are covering the spectrum right here.”
But transforming the iconic former Crown Bank building was something the Khatiwala brothers and the Jacobsons took seriously.
They agreed that the six-story building dating to 1925 should be preserved.
“All of the original flooring is there. The original checkered floor is preserved,” Jacobson said. “We tried to preserve as much of the marble as we possibly could. We kept the safe. We held onto the teller area where you’d look through and the teller would hand you the money. We kept that intact because it was so amazing.”
The grand columns, the crown molding and the other architectural touches also remain.
When customers walk through the doors Friday, Jacobson said she thinks they will be pleased.
“I think the community will love it,” she said. “Not just our community, but neighboring communities as well.”