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Ocean Boulevard adjusts

Editor's note: Downtown Myrtle Beach faces its first summer without its longtime landmark, The Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park. The Sun News will show how the area copes by following several businesses through the season.

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Uncertainty fills the streets in downtown Myrtle Beach.

With the area's anchor, The Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park, now a pile of rubble, businesses along Ocean Boulevard are shaking off the dust, anxious to see what the summer will bring.

No one knows what's going to happen, if tourists will return to downtown without the park to lure them. There's no precedent for this kind of change.

Some are worried, others are trying to be optimistic. Everyone agrees that, for better or worse, it will be a season like nothing they've had before, prompting most to hold off on any major additions until it's clear how downtown will fare without the Pavilion for the first time in 58 years.

"This year is more, 'Sit back and see what happens,'" said Jimmy Waldorf, owner of the Fun Plaza arcade on Ocean Boulevard near Ninth Avenue North. "This is probably the telltale summer."

An optimistic view

The Pavilion's closure opens a door for the Fun Plaza.

The arcade now is the largest one left along Ocean Boulevard, and Waldorf expects better gains this year because of it. And last year's bottom line jumped by 10 percent.

He's tired of hearing people speculate about how bad business will be downtown this summer. Yes, The Pavilion is gone, but nearly every other attraction - his arcade, the Gay Dolphin, The Bowery - is ready to entertain, he said.

"Who said the crowds ever left?" Waldorf said. "We are looking for a good year."

The winter already was better than last, with nice weather making January the best one the arcade has had in the 14 years it has stayed open through the off-season, Waldorf said.

That said, he's hesitant to put a number on how much business will grow this summer. "It's hard to tell," Waldorf said. "But I expect to do better."

Last summer, during the height of the Pavilion-closing talk, Waldorf put sandwich-board signs at all of his entrances clarifying for passersby that the Fun Plaza wasn't going anywhere. That should help keep those visitors coming back, he said.

"If the mall were to lose Belk," Waldorf said, "people would still keep going to the mall."

'A very dramatic change'

It's 4 p.m. Wednesday, and Tabatha Tindall of Goody's Minimart can roll off everything she's sold since noon in one breath: an Arizona drink to one customer and peanut butter, jelly and Goody's powder to a friend who works around the corner.

"A whopping $6.30 today," she said from behind the counter.

Bare soda racks and half-empty shelves of snacks give the impression that the store might close, but she quickly explains why there's a short supply. The minimart has had a slow start to the season since it opened last month, and Tindall isn't optimistic that business will pick up without the amusement park across the street.

"No need to fill up the store when nobody is here," she said. "This year it has taken a very dramatic change."

Tucked in a corner spot off Eighth Avenue North, the minimart is one of the businesses that, because of its location on a side street running alongside the former park, is expected to be hurt more by The Pavilion's closing than others along the main drag, Ocean Boulevard.

Tindall, 32, has worked this counter beside her mother for seven years. She has sold countless numbers of drinks, packs of cigarettes and candy bars to tourists.

Now, she's worried. She took classes this winter to be an insurance agent, just in case.

"With The Pavilion gone, they have no need for this side of the park," Tindall said. "They are going to go to a new spot. When you start tearing down, people don't want to come back."

Waiting and seeing

Chris Walker, who owns three small businesses along Ocean Boulevard, didn't want to just sit back and hope the crowds would return.

He's one of several business owners who organized the new Oceanfront Merchants Association this winter to hash out a strategy for the post-Pavilion downtown, including planning summer events such as concerts and buying ads to let tourists know the downtown is ready for them. The weekly fireworks shows will continue this summer, and bands will play in Plyler Park.

Walker owns Mad Myrtle's Ice Creamery, Nightmare Haunted House and an old-timey photo shop. Without competition from the Pavilion's ice cream and photo huts, he expects business will be up.

Still, he didn't add anything this season other than a fresh coat of paint.

"So far, so good," Walker said. "It will be a completely different environment. It is uncertain. ... I'm curious to find out, not necessarily worried."

Though The Pavilion is gone, the real draw for the area remains, he said.

"They come down there because we are on the beach," Walker said. "Long after I'm gone, people will still come down there. It's the ocean."

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