Rehoboth businesses look on the bright side

Rain hampers city parking revenue
For Rehoboth businesses such as Go Fish on Rehoboth Avenue, early summer rain got business off to a slow start. As the rains give way to heat, patrons are coming during the cooler, evening hours. BY RYAN MAVITY
July 19, 2013

After record rainfall in June, recent hot, drier weather has been drawing visitors back to Rehoboth Beach.

Rehoboth Avenue business owners say as the weather improves, so does revenue.

As Go Fish and Go Brit owner Alison Blyth said, “It’s picked up as [the weather] got better.

Blyth is has one store in downtown Rehoboth and one on Route 1. She said the weather has affected both restaurants, but in different ways. The recent hot weather has reduced the downtown Go Fish lunch crowd; diners have been eating out later to take advantage of the cooler evening weather. On the flip side, Go Brit’s business was strongest when the weather wasn’t good, Blyth said.

Numbers-wise, she said, Go Fish is right about where it was last year.

“I’m very happy with that,” Blyth said.

Lynn Finaldi, manager of It’s A Breeze on Rehoboth Avenue, said business has been good, but not great: steady but with fewer people. She said the weather has definitely been a factor, with the last week of sunny, rain-free days being their best so far.

When exactly the season starts is up for debate. For Finaldi, Memorial Day weekend is “a busy weekend, and that’s really all there is. Fourth of July is definitely the kickoff.”

It’s A Breeze is in its 27th year in business, while Modern Mixture, 62 Rehoboth Ave., is in its first full year. Owner/Manager Leo Cabrera said, “So far, so good. I am not complaining.” Cabrera said business has been steadily increasing as the summer has moved along. He said he predicts July will be the eatery's biggest month yet.

Gale Smith, manager of Tiger Lili, a women’s clothing store at 18 Rehoboth Ave., said business has been a little slower compared to last year, although she didn’t know whether that was because of the weather or the economy. Smith said the recent heat spell has affected business as customers are either going to the beach or staying in the air conditioning. She said business has been good at night when the temperature cools down.

Unlike the other businesses, Smith said Tiger Lili doesn’t fluctuate as much with the season since they are open year round. She said their season usually kicks off in April and in May.

Jo Ann Bacher, rental manager for Jack Lingo Realtor, said the rental market has been as strong as ever, with the most heavily booked weekends still to come. She said June bookings were a little off because of the rain, leading to some cancellations in early July. However, Bacher said the three most-heavily booked weekends are July 27, Aug. 3 and Aug. 10. She said there has been no particular pattern to what people are renting, with all properties moving well, from lower-end efficiencies to large beach houses.

Bacher said she has not seen an anticipated influx of visitors from New Jersey. Because of damage to the Jersey beaches caused by Hurricane Sandy, a large influx New Jersey visitors was expected in Delaware. But Bacher said this has not been the case. “Although I heard one of the ‘Real Housewives’ was down here,” she said.

Carol Everhart, President and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce said while the number of visitors has been lower than prior years, a turnaround is on the horizon.

According to a report by the chamber, the total occupancy from January to June was significantly down: 46,000 this year compared to 60,000 in 2012. Everhart said those numbers are beginning to trend upwards, as the last two weeks has seen occupancy at just around 95 percent capacity.

"Once the Fourth hit, there they are," she said. "This is really good news."

Also affected by the rainy weather: the city of Rehoboth.

Rehoboth’s parking revenue is about $58,000 behind last year’s pace, City Manager Greg Ferrese said. At this time last year, the city had collected $1.15 million, while this year’s total is currently just shy of $1.1 million, he said. The city budgeted $2.7 million in parking revenue this year; Rehoboth’s meters remain in effect until Monday, Sept. 16.

“It’s all weather related,” Ferrese said. “We get good weather, we’ll make it up.”

If the city’s statistics are any indication, visitors are more familiar with the Parkmobile, pay-by-phone system, which was introduced last year. For July 4 weekend, meter revenue from quarters remained about the same.

On July 4 itself, the city took in $53,000 in quarters this year, compared to $54,000 last year. However, that same day the city made $10,000 from Parkmobile compared to $6,000 last year, according to City Manager Greg Ferrese. The next day, Friday, July 5, was similar: this year, $23,000 in quarters and $11,000 via Parkmobile compared to $21,000 in quarters last year and $6,000 by Parkmobile.

Ferrese said Parkmobile has averaged $8,000 per day in July.

This year is also the first year the city introduced its controversial scooter parking permit program. Although the new $40 permit drew a protest from scooter riders Memorial Day weekend, Ferrese said the city has sold 580 permits so far this year.

Rachel Swick Mavity contributed to this story.