What happens to the little shack selling candy or french fries or crabs just off the beach when a sleepy resort like Ocean City explodes into a destination visited by hundreds of thousands of vacationers each summer?
Some go out of business, overwhelmed by the waves of change; some get bought by others more skilled in navigating the tricky currents of large-scale operations; and some find ways to grow into successful enterprises that meet the challenges of the modern world.
These survivors - places such as Dumser's ice cream, Phillips' crabs and Thrasher's french fries - offer vacationers faithful echoes of earlier visits and lessons in growth for small businesses everywhere.
Consider, for instance, Dolle's Candyland Inc. in Ocean City, which was founded by the Dolle family in 1910 and is blossoming in the summer of 2004.
The confectionery has been an institution on the southern end of the Boardwalk for many decades. Although it briefly had a store at 94th Street, the family closed that location to focus on its main store.
"When there's only a family of four, it's hard," said Anna Bushnell, whose great-grandfather and grandfather started the business. "You can't have the quality control. There's always a family member here. We eat candy a lot. We have strict standards."
"It seems to be busier every year," Bushnell said. "With the real estate market going up, there are a lot more people in town. With Ocean City's growth, our store has grown."
Still, with new locations of competitor Candy Kitchen proliferating across the ocean-side resort, the Dolles felt the need to innovate to better serve a fast-growing market.
This spring, the family overhauled its store at a cost of about $150,000, expanding its retail area from less than 200 square feet to 850 square feet and moving its manufacturing and kitchen up the street.
With the thought of making it easier for people to do one-stop shopping, Bushnell has added stuffed animals, lunch boxes, Old Bay-seasoned nuts and other gifts to the product line, and packaged candy in small, ready-to-grab plastic bags.
"They're used to getting their taffy and maybe a little bit of chocolate," said Bushnell, who runs the business with her parents and brother, Andrew Dolle. "Now, they can get their gifts. I know if I can do all my shopping in one place, I will."
Their business was so space-starved before that it was not conducive to browsing, Bushnell said.
"Our business was growing, and we were in such a small spot that people would just come in and get what they wanted and leave so the next person could fit in," she said. "Now they can stay as long as they want."
The Dolles discovered that making candy in public can also pay off with greatly increased sales.
"It was a fluke," she said. "I didn't think people would find it such an attraction. We ran out. We couldn't make them fast enough. Now anything I can do out here, I'll do out here. If I can dip the caramel apples, I will."
Capitalizing on the intrigue of candy-making, her father came up with the idea of giving free tours on Fridays that will be handled by a sign-up sheet. One of the highlights will be the 51-year-old machine that cuts and wraps taffy, she said.
That machine helps make 5,000 pounds of taffy a week in the summer, Bushnell said.
"He just loves to see people's reactions," Bushnell said. "It's our job, but when other people see it, they're fascinated with the machinery and the smells."
"My whole goal was to give it an old-fashioned candy store feel," said Bushnell. "This spring has been great for us. I expected a 30 percent increase in business, but we've already seen more than that. I've seen 40 percent. People are considering this a new attraction in Ocean City and coming to see it."
Even as Dolle's single-location business plan appears to be paying off, others have taken a different course. Dumser's ice cream has sprouted seven shops, with three open year-round.
The business was started on the Boardwalk in 1939 by the Dumser family. Don W. Timmons, the current owner, got involved in 1980 when the original owner retired and sold out. He had run a competing business since 1976.
Consistency is one of the key ingredients in Timmons' success, as competition has come and gone, he said.
"We still have the same products since we opened," he said. "The ice cream hasn't changed since Mrs. Dumser sold it."
And from the beginning, Timmons has understood the magic of making ice cream in front of customers.
His recipe, and even the exact butterfat content, is a trade secret, Timmons said. But Breyer's is 10 percent butterfat and Dumser's is higher than that, he noted.
There are shared traits among the long-standing Ocean City businesses, Timmons observed.
"Each one of us owns part of the Boardwalk," he said. "Everyone has been consistent with quality. They haven't cut any corners. They sell the best they can sell. For the most part, their only location is Ocean City - they haven't ventured out. And it's still run by the families."