Resort family hopes the ride doesn't end

Park: The Trimper family and its amusement park have found success as a fixture on Ocean City's boardwalk.

July 04, 1999|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- It's not hard to find Granville Trimper. Walk a few steps off the boardwalk, about half a block down South Division Street, and look for the talking parrots. If that doesn't work, check out the bench right under the giant pirate.

Trimper's the big fellow clutching a walkie-talkie and surveying the flash of lights, the sonic blast of Top 40 tunes and the delighted squeals and screams of his customers. Not to mention keeping close tabs on the bottom line that has been very good to the Trimper clan.

The family's conglomeration of rides, miniature golf courses, hotel rooms and gift shops -- three city blocks' worth -- has been a fixture on the boardwalk, and near it, for as long as there's been a boardwalk. This is the family's 109th Fourth of July weekend in Ocean City.

After a lifetime spent running all manner of careening, tilting, whirling or spinning mechanical thrill rides, the 70-year-old patriarch never seems to tire of the nightly spectacle.

During the season, Trimper is out among his customers and about 300 summer employees seven days a week, usually until midnight or 1 a.m., when the boardwalk, rides and arcades shut down.

"If you don't think this is a fun business where people get their first good memories of Ocean City, you couldn't keep going for this long," Trimper says. "It really is a fun business. It's something different -- different people, different faces -- every night."

Lately, Trimper claims to have slowed down a little, depending more on his son, two daughters and longtime employees to take a larger role in the company.

Marty, his wife of 30 years, says the couple spend a few weeks every winter at their condominium in Florida. "A lot of Ocean City people go there or to the islands to do all the beach stuff we don't have time for during the summer," she says.

In recent years, a fifth generation has been eased into the operation that began when Trimper's grandparents, German immigrants Daniel and Margaret Trimper, left Baltimore for Ocean City in 1890.

"I guess you could say they were in on the start of Ocean City," says former Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell, a boyhood friend. "They've maintained Ocean City as a home. They still live here. There's something special among people who are native to Ocean City. It's a place where if you had common sense and worked hard, you did all right."

Political career

Powell helped get Trimper interested in politics. The pair served for years on the Town Council, and Powell became a quick-with-a-quip mayor who had a knack for promoting the resort.

Trimper served nearly two decades on the council as development surged in north and west Ocean City.

His tenure as a Worcester County commissioner lasted one term, coming to an end last fall in a wave of slow-growth sentiment.

"I never considered myself anti-environment, but that's how I was perceived," Trimper says. "I still don't think if you look at how much rural land we still have in the county that we're overdeveloped. You've got to expect that the resort area will develop."

Trimper says he is out of politics and has more time for his family and business.

Continuity in the rides and entertainment seems to be as important to the customers who return year after year as it is to his family, he says.

One familiar draw is the 1902 carousel that operates 12 hours a day year-round. The carousel is housed in a boardwalk building put up by Trimper's grandparents that also houses rides that date to the 1920s. Among the oldest merry-go-rounds in the country, it has 40 hand-carved wooden animals, three chariots and a rocking chair.

Jack Jarvis also knows something about continuity. Semiretired at 69, he was 13 when he started with the Trimpers on Memorial Day 1943. He has run hundreds of rides and arcade games.

Perhaps more important, through decades of changing electronics and technology, Jarvis has played a key role in the maintenance and repairs on an array of rides and games, work that keeps a staff of about 50 employees busy year-round. Except for a stint in the military, he has not had another job.

"You couldn't survive all these years if you didn't have some carny in you," Jarvis says of the amusement business. "It's exciting just to see new faces every night. It's the same, but you realize that every single person is different."

`Hands-on people'

Continually adding rides and attractions, Trimper bowed this year to the latest fact of business life in Ocean City, a chronic labor shortage, and bought a 40-room motel in west Ocean City. With rents spiraling higher, Trimper says providing cheap housing for workers is the only solution.

"We're hands-on people; the whole family works that way," Trimper says. "So many businesses fail in Ocean City because of absentee ownership. We're here every single day."

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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