Beach boardwalk sign causes wave of concern: Dolle’s landmark letters in limbo as Rehoboth store relocates

Dolle’s owner Tom Ibach stands next to the legendary sign on the roof of his store. He said more people are upset about potentially missing the sign than losing the historic Dolle’s location at the corner of the boardwalk and Rehoboth Avenue. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

REHOBOTH BEACH — Dolle’s Candyland and its iconic orange sign have been an integral part of Rehoboth Beach’s boardwalk for decades.

But due to a rent increase and unfavorable lease terms, at the end of January, the store, which opened in 1927, will move down the street.

The fate of the landmark sign, however, is still up in the air.

“It’s sort of one of those icons,” Dolle’s owner Tom Ibach said of the oversized orange sign, which features the store name in cursive and notes that its signature saltwater taffy is available below.

“I think a lot of people use it as a meeting point,” Mr. Ibach said. “It’s something that identifies Rehoboth. You think about Rehoboth, and you think about the orange sign on top of the Dolle’s building.”

He said more people are upset about potentially missing the sign than losing the historic Dolle’s location at the corner of the boardwalk and Rehoboth Avenue.

“I think a lot more people are concerned about the sign and what the landscape of Rehoboth looks like more than anything else,” Mr. Ibach said.

Adrianna Kaleia, the manager of The Ice Cream Store on the opposite side of Rehoboth Avenue, said she is in that boat.

“I think it’s kind of sad,” she said of the sign’s impending removal. “I’ve always lived around here. It’s been here since I was a kid, and it’s kind of a signature trademark of Rehoboth.”

Ms. Kaleia said the sign “will be missed by a lot of people,” both tourists and locals alike.

Rachel Webster, owner of the nearby Rehoboth Toy & Kite Co., agreed.

“It’s sad. I was just downtown a little bit ago with my kids, and I just can’t believe it’s coming down,” Ms. Webster said.

“It’s just heartbreaking that that sign is coming down, and I don’t exactly understand why it has to come down,” she said.

Mayor Stan Mills said there are many ideas about the sign’s fate floating around the community.

“The mayor and commissioners have received a lot of constituent comments and suggestions of what to do with the sign,” he said.

Recommendations include forcing the current owner of the property to keep the sign, adding the sign to a national historic register or city historic district so it can’t be taken down or relocating the sign to the top of the local historical society.

“They’re all interesting suggestions, but I wanted to hear directly from the owner Tom Ibach, so I called him,” Mayor Mills said.

“He clarified that, no, he doesn’t want to leave the sign in the current location. He’s reported that he doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the sign with his business relocating,” the mayor said. “Ultimately, he would prefer to be able to relocate his existing oversized sign to about three or four stores down to his new location.”

Mr. Ibach said Dolle’s will be consolidated with his other store, Ibach’s Candy by the Sea, which will take on the Dolle’s name.

“We’re working with the city in order to have the sign moved down to the Ibach’s location at 9 Rehoboth Ave., which is about 50 feet away,” Mr. Ibach said.

But he said moving the sign is not as simple as getting a crane and remounting each letter at the new location.

Dolle’s owner Tom Ibach said “It’s hard (to move) because I kind of grew up here. You have the attachment because my family was here. My grandparents lived upstairs because that’s the way they did things back then.” Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder Dolle’s owner Tom Ibach said “It’s hard (to move) because I kind of grew up here. You have the attachment because my family was here. My grandparents lived upstairs because that’s the way they did things back then.”

“The sign is an illegal sign,” per Rehoboth’s modern city code, Mr. Ibach said. “It’s grandfathered in. You can’t put signs like that up again.”

But given the sign’s deep significance to the community, he has been in touch with the city about making an exception.

“If the city’s nice enough to try to find a way to keep the sign, I’ll take care of funding it,” Mr. Ibach said of the move.

Peter Borsari, who owns a nearby restaurant The Pond Bar and Grill, believes the city should be on this.

“If I was a city manager, I would be doing everything I could to come up with a plan to keep that sign there,” he said.

Ms. Kaleia couldn’t imagine the city putting up much resistance given the sign’s iconic status.

“It’s very noticeable, and it’s probably something everyone loves, so I don’t think it will be too much of an issue,” she said.

Ms. Webster doesn’t want to see the sign leave its current location.

“They should just leave it exactly where it is, and people are going to find Dolle’s around the corner,” she said. “It’s not like they’re going to whatever else (will be) underneath there, unless it’s a candy store.”

A sizable rent increase and changes to the terms of his lease are what led Mr. Ibach to jettison the original Dolle’s property.

“The new lease that was proposed to us was just not economically feasible,” he said. “There was a huge increase in the rent, as well as having other responsibilities for the property that just cost too much money.”

He said the new lease would make him “responsible for taking care of the entire building as if I was the owner. That’s what it boils down to.”

Mr. Ibach said he didn’t want to be in charge of that, given the building’s advanced age and deteriorating condition.

“This is an old building (from) 1962. There’s structural problems like cracking in the cinder blocks, so I don’t really want to be responsible for that,” he said, “as well as paying an increase in rent.”

Ms. Webster said she “can’t believe that the landlords are raising rent at this time.”

A sizable rent increase and changes to the terms of his lease are what led Mr. Ibach to jettison the original Dolle’s property.

Dolle’s has existed at 1 Rehoboth Ave. since 1927, when Mr. Ibach’s grandfather, Thomas Pachides, opened the location with his business partner, Rudolph Dolle.

“The original store that was built in 1927 was destroyed in the great March storm of 1962. It was rebuilt and opened in July that year,” Mr. Ibach said.

That was when the iconic sign made its debut, he said. But this is not the iteration of the sign that currently exists. About two decades ago, Mr. Ibach said the sign had to be fully replaced after a series of strong winter storms.

In addition to consolidating his retail operations downtown, Mr. Ibach said he hopes to move his manufacturing facility onto Del. 1, near Steamboat Landing Road. Currently, his products are created at Beach Treats, on the boardwalk just north of Dolle’s.

“The production facility is not completed yet. Our last aspect is working with (the Department of Transportation),” he said.

“We have approval for a production facility; however, we wanted to have a small retail shop along with it, and DelDOT is kind of hanging us up on that, so we’re working with an attorney right now to see if we can get that done,” Mr. Ibach said.

“If it doesn’t go through, then we’re just going to have production out there and will probably start construction of that sometime next year,” he said.

Like with the original Dolle’s retail location on the boardwalk, Mr. Ibach said high rent is pushing the production location away.

“This is just not an area for production,” he said. “We don’t want to have production in a really high-rent district. We want to be able to use the space for retail.”

While Mr. Ibach is sure these moves are sound from a business perspective, it does sadden him to be giving up the historic location where he used to work every summer as a child.

“It’s hard because I kind of grew up here,” he said. “You have the attachment because my family was here. My grandparents lived upstairs because that’s the way they did things back then.”

Nick Caggiano Sr., who owns long-standing Nicola Pizza with locations on Rehoboth Avenue and First Street, said losing the sign will be hard for the city at large, too.

“That’s going to be tough for Rehoboth,” he said. “It’s been a staple.”

But Mr. Caggiano did not believe the change would have a significant impact on business downtown.

“I think it’s just status, to be honest with you,” he said.

“Rehoboth Beach is Rehoboth Beach,” Mr. Caggiano said. “It’s always going to draw that clientele from Washington, New York, Philadelphia. We’re in a megalopolis here.”

Mayor Mills said there are two possible courses of action the municipal government could take to allow Mr. Ibach to move his sign.

“Because the sign regulations are within our zoning code, … he could approach the zoning board of adjustment to see if he could seek a variance to the size limitations,” he said. “Otherwise, we might be able to take a look into other options, including possibly changing code.”

The mayor said Mr. Ibach “would likely need to do some engineering studies to see if it’s even possible to move that sign to a new location.”

The last day Dolle’s will be selling taffy, caramel corn and fudge from its original location at 1 Rehoboth Ave. will be Jan. 31, although Mr. Ibach said the sign may come down before then.