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September 6, 2002     Cape Gazette
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September 6, 2002

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60 - CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, Sept. 6 - Sept, 12, 2002 BUSINESS & REAL ESTATE Economic effect of tourism sizzles Cape Region By Andrew Keegan Bucking the trend of gloomy economic forecasts, Delaware's Cape Region is experiencing a banner year, th.anks in part to a substantially drier than normal summer, coupled with the luxury of convenience. Tourists have flocked in droves to area beaches and small towns, pumping mil- lions of dollars into local economies, according to Karen O'Neill, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism. "The tourism industry has done remarkably well so far," said O'Neill. "The figures for June and July indicated that tourism in Sussex County was up more than 21 percent." Undoubtedly, sweltering sum- mer days contributed to many seeking relief at area beaches. Excluding the Labor Day deluge, rainfall for the summer months to- taled about seven inches below the normal 12-inch expected ac- cumulation. Temperatures hovered at 90 de- grees or above for 44 days since mid- April. For many working in the tourism indus- try, the events of Sept. 11 have con- O'NEILL tributed to the increase in visitors to the First State. "Many individuals are choosing not to fly and prefer a destination within driving distance," O'Neill said. "We've had a noticeable in- flux of requests for tourist infor- mation from the New England and New York area." For the third year in a row, Sus- sex County beaches have been recognized by the Clean Beaches Council, a nonprofit organization devoted to sustaining America's beaches, as having quality condi- tions. Beaches are graded on pub- lic safety, cleanliness and environ- mental quality. "People are looking for quality more than ever," O'Neill indicat- ed. "We offer quality products to match the quality of our area. " And it's much more than beach- es that draw people to the area. "Communities have developed festivals and events that continu- ally draw a higher attendance each year," O'Neill remarked. "Tourists have varied interests, from antiquing, to museums to em joying fine restaurants., Tom Greeley, who owns The Wooden Indian Ltd., located in Rehoboth Beach, would agree. "Our sales have definitely in- creased," Greeley stated. "In July we were up 20 percent, then an- other 33 percent in August." The shop specializes in high-end gifts and has been operating for 25 years. "This has been one of the better years; that's for sure," he said. Carol Everhart, executive direc- tor of Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the visitation trend has been greatly appreciated and somewhat of a surprise. "Not everyone is seeing this kind of increase in tourism," Everhart said. 'T ve heard others, and not that I would disagree, say that 9-11 has impacted tourism." Fun, food and frills - are the words Everhart used to describe the pattern of spending surround- ing this year's tourists. "The fun pertains to anything that's fun: amusement parks, water- slides, etc. I believe golf was the only area, probably due to the in- tense heat, that did not have an EVERHART increase. Food relates to everything from fast food to fine dining; they were up across the board. Frills, because many big ticket items fall into the category of something you want but don't necessarily need, were also up. So depending where your busi- ness fell, selling essential or luxu- ry items, dictated whether you had a good year or an outstanding year," said Everhart. Lewes retailers also have bene- fited from a steady stream of visi- tors this year. Betsy Reamer, ex- ecutive director of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, indicated retailers and hotels fared above average. "Being a beach town, we defi- nitely benefited from the sunny summer," Reamer said. "Outdoor "dining establishments and shops dealing with outdoor stuff did very well." Business owner Gavin Braith- waithe, who maintains three shops - Puzzles, The Stepping Stone and Union Jack - in historic down- town Lewes, indicated an overall 7 percent increase in business. "I've been in business more than 10 years and sales have increased each year," Braithwaithe said. Resort chamber eyes short-term fix for area traffic problems By Jim Cresson While state transportation offi- cials continue long-term efforts to ease peak-season traffic problems on Route 1, resort chamber offi- cials think they have a short-term fix that could help, if only a little. Carol Everhart, executive direc- tor of the R-ehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, says staggering check-in, check- out days for rental units in the re- sort area is an idea worth pursu- ing. She said the chamber's politi- cal action committee looked into the possibility this summer and found it has worked for resort des- tinations along the North Carolina coast. Ninety percent of the Delaware and Maryland resort rental units change over every Saturday, drawing thousands of family- packed cars down Route 1 to their summer vacation destinations. The chamber proposes staggering the turnover days to lessen the Saturday traffic. "It's an idea in its earliest stages," said Everhart. "But we' ve found out that Ocean City (Md.) has looked into the concept, too. And in North Carolina, they've used it for 10 years and it really did make a difference. Everyone agrees it would be wonderful if we could find a short-term fix for the weekend traffic congestion. If there is anything we can do, even in small percentages, we'd like to try it." The plan would take the cooper- ation of local rental agents and the owners whose properties are rent- ed weekly. And, of course, it would have to appeal to the vaca- tioners in order for it to work. "We're looking at trying some pilot programs here in some of the rental units to see how it goes," Everhart said. "If possible, we could begin next season with some weekend rental packages from Fridays to Tuesdays for peo- ple who aren't planning a week's vacation. We're also looking at of- fering some Friday to Friday rentals, Sunday to Sunday rentals and Monday to Monday rentals in addition to the regular Saturday to Saturday rentals." Everhart added some caution- ary notes to the proposals, saying they will need the cooperation of the many and varied businesses that service the local rental indus- try. If they can accommodate changes in what has been a long- time tradition of Saturday rental changeovers, then the plan could be implemented in pilot form next season. Heather Gray, manager at Ocean Atlantic Agency, said she is keenly aware that the traffic prob- lem has been "growing progres- sively worse for the past three years I've been here." She said she thinks the chamber idea is worth pursuing. "I believe it really would make a difference. It would give tenants more flexibility for vacations and it would help ease the traffic. It's Surely worth a try." Jim Waggoner, regional vice president for Long & Foster Real- tors, knows the problem well, and he says Long & Foster has consid- ered doing something along the same lines in recent years. "Anything we can do to reduce Continued on page 61 DBC returns to family affair By Andrew Keegan The Dewey Beach Club (DBC), which for 15 years remained a typical morn-and-pen restaurant and bar under the ownership of the Sponaugle fami- ly, will be returning to its roots. According to Marye Burton, manager of the restaurant and sister-in-law to Bill "Spoony" Sponaugle, the family is in the process of purchasing the local watering hole back from Highway One Limited Partnership. The mul- tirestaurant conglomerate bought DBC in October 2000, yet it retained the Sponaugles as employees. "Bill and Theresa are extremely gratified that Highway One has worked with them to make this happen," said Burton. "Our family has a special re- lationship with them, which is rare in this type of business." The Sponaugles sold the restaurant two years ago because they needed a break from the 24-hours-a- day, seven-days-a-week grind associated with run- ning the business, said Burton. Alex Pires, general partner of Highway One, said the decision to sell the restaurant back to the Sponau- gles was a mutual one. "Frankly, they're simply better running it than we were," Pires said. "DBC is a more personal and lo- cal establishment with a great following." The family assumed management as of Sept. 1 and hopes to finalize the purchase in six to eight weeks. "Hey, we're still the Cheers of Dewey Beach," laughed Burton. "Nothing much has changed." Submitted photo Bill "Spoony" Sponaugle, along with wife Theresa, are pur- chasing the Dewey Beach Club back from Highway One Lim- ited Partnership. The couple sold the restaurant two years ago and are elated about reclaiming the long.time Dewey in- stitution. Shown is Spoony in his usual location - behind the bar serving customers.