Each summer I spend a month or so visiting my parents in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and really the only thing I don’t absolutely love about it is the lack of a proper coffee shop. I’ve sampled just about every latte in town and even tried giving them up for the trip, but have finally resigned myself to the chronically understaffed Starbucks on Rehoboth Avenue, which has the longest, slowest lines I have ever encountered.
Recently a friend responded to one of my (admittedly) whiny tweets about the Rehoboth Starbucks, wondering why I hadn’t been able to find a good indie coffee shop. He speculated that maybe it was too hard for small businesses to compete against Starbucks. I didn’t think that was the issue, since Rehoboth Beach is almost all local businesses. His reply: “Take pictures of them, while they’re still there.”
Rehoboth’s small business scene is unique and vibrant, and it’s impossible for me to imagine it without the bookstores and ice cream parlors and pizza places I loved when I was growing up here. But–all the same–I’m taking pictures.
Here are five of my favorite Rehoboth Beach businesses, and what I especially love about each one.
1. Browseabout Books: This is the absolute best kind of bookstore, packed with tables of thoughtful staff picks, a maze of aisles to get lost in, and a choice selection of cool games and toys. Browseabout completely gets the importance of offline events for building community, and on most summer days you can enjoy a kids’ story time or an author book signing. Giving my kids a few dollars to spend here can keep them happily flip-flopping around, spinning racks of paperbacks and playing with Schleich animal figures, for at least an hour.
Signature touch: Rainbow-hued murals commemorating local best sellers since 1975.
What could be better: Coffee worthy of the Browseabout experience–though they claim the best lattes in town, trust me that there’s plenty of room for improvement.
2. Royal Treat: There are probably dozens of places to get ice cream in Rehoboth, but Royal Treat is by far my favorite. It feels like stepping back in time when you climb the steps of an old beach house and relax on the porch with a hand-dipped milkshake while fancy ceiling fans keep you gently cool. In the mornings the fare shifts to breakfast, with local teenagers serving up platters of french toast and bacon.
Signature touch: A big ceramic crock of ice water that my friend calls….
What could be better: “Cash only” also feels like stepping back in time.
3. Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats: This outstanding craft brewery founded by the charismatic and visionary Sam Calagione is garnering increasing fame–for good reason–but it all started here, and it remains a decidedly local (if no longer exactly small) business. More than 15 years ago, we took a chance on their recently opened brewpub at the northern tip of Rehoboth Avenue to host our rehearsal dinner, and it turned out to be the ideal spot for a laid-back, memorable gathering. Dogfish Head is one of my gold standards for amazing word-of-mouth marketing (led by my childhood friend Mariah Draper Calagione), and it deserves a post of its own, but this place is the real deal, with a rotating selection of handcrafted brews on tap, live music, and a walk-up window where you can pick up cool t-shirts or a growler of 90-Minute IPA or Festina Peche (my favorite).
What could be better: I might be spoiled by Georgetown Brewery in Seattle, but the growlers seem on the pricey side compared to the bottled beer.
4. Funland: A trip to Rehoboth Beach without a visit to Funland would be inconceivable. A handful of tickets can score you a ride on the classic bumper cars, the whirling teacups, or the Ferris-wheel-like Paratrooper, which offers a peek at the ocean at the top. A true rite of passage is to strap your tiny ones into the floating toy boats–the very same ones my dad rode when he was small–and take about a hundred pictures as they circle around, pulling on little ropes to ring the bells that crown the bow of each boat. You can squeeze into an old-school photo booth or plunk down some coins for a game of Whac-a-Mole or Skeeball. It’s a happy din of pure, perfect boardwalk magic.
Signature touches: The iconic green tickets, still a bargain.
What could be better: Some of the rides and games could use a (gentle) facelift, though I appreciate that so many of the originals remain intact.
5. Grotto Pizza: Anyone who has visited Delaware knows there’s nothing small about this business, but it certainly started out that way. What began as two brothers from Pennsylvania selling slices out of a tiny window has bloomed into a vast empire of shiny family-friendly pizza factories. I have vivid childhood memories of the original Grotto on Rehoboth Avenue–a dimly lit corridor of vinyl booths–and as a teenager l I took a turn in the kitchen as a “pie writer,” hand-writing each order on a clipboard placed carefully in the cooks’ line of vision so they could crank out pizzas without interruption. Now I love sharing “the legendary taste” with my family in the pleasant open-air side patio.
Signature touches: The bright-tasting sauce is applied over the cheese in a distinctive spiral pattern. Also, balloons for the kids.
What could be better: Keeping the ever-sprawling menu in control (breakfast pizza?).
Stay tuned for five more favorites…and in the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming about opening the ultimate Rehoboth Beach coffee shop.