As someone with a second home in Rehoboth Beach who listened to the full-timers’ requests, I stayed away during the first three months of the pandemic. Then early morning on July 5 headed to the beach from D.C. and made it in two hours and 15 minutes.
I knew things would be different from a normal summer and purposely stayed away the Friday and Saturday of the July 4th weekend afraid of crowds of people without masks and not social distancing. From all reports the governor’s order closing the bars and Rehoboth Beach Commission’s order requiring masks in all public places including on the beach, had the desired effect of keeping crowds away. While it did hurt business it was a health issue and the business owners I know respected the decision. At the time, Delaware was being placed on the quarantine list of some northeastern states like New York because of the increase in coronavirus cases.
So while not sure what things would be like I must say it was generally a pleasant surprise. Rehoboth Beach is a one-mile square area of sanity in Sussex County, the most Trumpian county in Delaware. Most of the people in town were wearing masks and obeying the state and town ordinances. Some tourists were being their obnoxious selves and some young people are still willing to risk their lives and the lives of the people they come in contact with like their parents and grandparents by not wearing masks and hanging out in big groups. But I saw less of that than expected. Some mistook the bar closing announcement for a restaurant closing. Restaurants with bars simply closed their bar section and could serve drinks to seated customers. The Rehoboth Beach Commission has also made it possible for restaurants to use sidewalks to expand their open air seating, which is great for the many like me who aren’t yet comfortable dining inside.
Some of the places where I ate or just saw them doing things well include The Pines, Aqua Grill, The Purple Parrot, Iguana Grill, Diego’s, Eden, Jam, Back Porch, La Fable and Sazio. Others doing it well were Lori’s Café, Port 251, Blue Moon, Azafran, and Goolee’s Grill. My favorite early morning stop was The Coffee Mill, where owner Mel and staff like Juan served coffee and breakfast beginning at 7 a.m. They and their customers all wore masks and practiced appropriate distancing. Mel also owns BRASHhh clothing on 1st street and it and other shops like Gidget’s Gadgets, Carlton’s, and the great new Coho’s Market and Grill on Rehoboth Avenue, as well as Elegant Slumming and Philip Morton Gallery on Baltimore Avenue were open and working hard to keep their businesses going safely.
Overall the town felt safe. While only there for two weeks this time, I am telling friends to go and enjoy. One recommendation to the police would be to issue a few more of those $100 fines for not wearing a mask or face covering to reinforce the seriousness of the situation. All their officers should be wearing masks as well.
One jarring moment occurred when I viewed the Chamber of Commerce video on Facebook advertising a safe Rehoboth. While generally good it clearly wasn’t carefully reviewed or thought out. Business owners and staff were filmed thanking people for coming to the beach to reinforce the fact it was open. Nearly all the people in the video were wearing masks, but one person was wearing it incorrectly, not covering his nose. There was a strong statement from Dr. David Tam, Beebe Healthcare’s CEO and president, who spoke about the need for wearing a mask and keeping appropriate distance. The jarring note came at the end of the video when Carol Everhart, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, appeared in front of the chamber office on Rehoboth Avenue without a mask. When I asked her about it she said it was harder to speak with a mask on. Yes, we all have a harder time speaking with our mask, but Dr. Tam did it and we all do it. She did a huge disservice to her members, all trying to enforce the law demanding people wear masks in public and when entering their premises.
Yes life at the beach is different from other summers, but it’s still a great place to vacation this year. Just remember when you go to wear your mask, respect social distancing, and do it because you are being courteous and care about others and doing your part to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.