By Ali Nicole

This year marked the return of Ocean City’s Spring Trade Expo – now in its 48th year – an event featuring goods and services for the hospitality industry. The expo was held on March 6-7, at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center for the first time since 2020, the last time it was held in-person just before the initial COVID-19 pandemic closures. 

“We were super excited to get back to a live, in-person event. We changed our floor plan this year and were able to be in one hall with the convention center expansion,” said Susan L. Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.

The trade expo has historically been held every spring by the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association since 1974. Even in 2021 when the in-person event was cancelled due to the pandemic, a Facebook Live event was held in its place. More than 350 companies gathered this year to provide information on products and services from food and beverages, appliances and equipment to banking, cleaning and advertising — and everything in between. 

Businesses came from across the region to showcase current products, unveil new products and provide show specials to attendees. 

“I have noticed a lot more attendees coming from across the [Bay] bridge. It’s becoming more of a Mid-Atlantic show and not just a local beaches show,” Jones said.

Danielle Dougherty of Blue Earl Brewing, Smyrna, was excited to be exhibiting at the show for the first time. Her booth featured samplings of the brewery’s flavors such as the Clockwork Orange pale ale, a concoction brewed with fresh orange juice, making it light and refreshing. 

The Restaurant Association of Maryland, represented by Director of Operations, Rich Linger, returned to the expo with information on membership and its 2022 Gala which was held March 27, and how the association promotes and protects the Maryland restaurant industry. 

Layton Surf Co. in Ocean City made its debut at this year’s expo. The shop opened in 2021 and owner, Jonathan Layton, delighted in giving away hats to new surf shop fans. An exciting feature of the weekend – George’s Beverage Company unveiled the long-awaited Old Bay Vodka, which is crafted in Frederick.

These businesses represent just a small portion of the convention’s full exhibitor list. Jones commented, “I was thrilled that we were able to fill the entire room and have a waiting list.” 

On the floor and in the booths, while the environment was fun and informative, the crowd was business-focused. Jones described, “The people who attended were there looking to do business.” 

Nearly 60 percent of exhibitors who provided survey feedback following the event rated it as excellent.

Across the show floor, drinks, food and machines were debuted, displayed and delighted in, but that is not all the Spring Trade Expo had to offer. 

Panels, showcases and a competition were also part of the two-day schedule. Panel topics included information provided by local industry leaders on beverages and the future of the industry, workforce development, hospitality and the future of the industry, and alcohol awareness and guidelines for businesses. 

On showcase was latte art and understanding cuts of pork from raising to use. The Maryland World Food Championship Qualifier competition, Seafood Ticket, brought to the show by The Restaurant Association of Maryland, proceeded live on the showroom floor with Chef Chett Bland coming out on top.

In her 27th year producing the trade show, Susan Jones said of this show, “the vibe was the best all around,” compared to all the years she’s been leading the convention. 

Though pre-registered attendee numbers were just over 4,200 — a drop from 2020’s roughly 5,000 — she described the 48th year as remaining true to the purpose of the show and the desired outcomes for vendors and attendees. 

“The goal of the show is always to bring together the hospitality sellers and buyers,” Jones said.