Dolle’s, its iconic sign to leave Rehoboth boardwalk
REHOBOTH BEACH — In a sign of the changing face of Rehoboth Beach, Dolle’s Candyland will be moving out of its iconic boardwalk location.
The lease on 1. Rehoboth Ave. expires on Jan. 31, and Dolle’s Candyland owner Tom Ibach said he will not be renewing it because it was not “economically feasible.”
“When the new lease came out, it was substantially higher and it came with additional responsibilities, like upkeep of the property and taxes,” Ibach told the Delaware Business Times on Monday. “It was about 75% to 80% more of the rent. But if you include the added responsibilities, it would be almost double.”
Ibach plans to move the candy store to Ibach’s By the Sea, which is right next door to Dolle’s and 50 feet from the boardwalk. Ibach opened that storefront in the 1980s, around the time he took over the family business.
“What people don’t understand is that even if you sign a 25-year lease, each year it goes up. So there’s a base price and it would go up with an amount tied with an economic index,” he said. “My speculation, and it’s just speculation, is that the landlord wants to sell the property. It would be easier to sell it without me here.”
Dolle’s Candyland has been a Delaware icon since opened on the boardwalk in 1927 out of the former YMCA. Established first in 1910, Rudolph Dolle bought a salt water candy stand on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Md. — and it later became Dolle’s primary enterprise after his nearby carousel burned down a few years later.
With Philadelphian candymaker Thomas Pachides, Dolle expanded the candy business to Rehoboth Beach in 1926. Thirty years later, Pachides bought out Dolle’s interest in the Delaware storefront. Today, Dolle’s Candy has four locations in Ocean City which are managed by Dolle’s descendants.
The original Rehoboth Beach Dolle’s storefront was destroyed in the Storm of 1962, but it was later rebuilt with the iconic orange Dolle’s sign that overlooks the boardwalk and the historic row of shops on Rehoboth Avenue. Ibach took over the Delaware candy business in 1984 after Pachides’ death.
As for the landmark Dolle’s sign that overlooks the boardwalk and the row of shops on Rehoboth Avenue, the future is unclear but Ibach is hopeful it will find a new spot. He wanted to move it along with Dolle’s but he said it’s most likely illegal under the city’s zoning codes.
“I just had a great talk with Mayor Mills, and there might be some options the city solicitor can look into,” he said. “I understand why people want to keep it, it’s a big piece of Rehoboth Beach and it’s in every picture of the boardwalk. But it just doesn’t make sense to leave it where it is, because that would confuse customers.”
Dolle’s is also looking to move production of its taffy, chocolate, brickle and more out of Rehoboth Beach. Earlier this year, the Sussex County Planning Commission approved a site plan for a 5,125-square-foot building at 14657 Coastal Highway near Milton. Ibach hoped to move production of all candy — except its famous popcorn — to that location. In addition, he wanted to open a retail space, but he said he’s still working through the permitting process with the Delaware Department of Transportation.
Dolle’s marks the fourth business in Rehoboth Beach to announce it is relocating this year, including Nicola Pizza after 50 years, The Pond after 40 years and Agave which moved its planned second location from the main drag to Route 1.
Although Ibach emphasized that his business will remain in downtown Rehoboth, he pointed out that high rent prices and lack of parking could be main drivers to push businesses further from the beach.
“It’s tough competition, and the rent is so high. Anyone who owns a business here and rents is in a tough spot because the landlords make the rent go up and they squeeze everyone,” Ibach told DBT. “On top of that, you got to keep an eye on the competition and what they’re charging and what your prices are.”
The pandemic really “shook things loose,” on top of struggles to hire employees without the J-1 visa student workers and an uneasy tourist season. Without the U.S. Small Business Administration programs, Ibach doubts Dolle’s would still be standing today.
“The beach is always going to be the primary reason why people come. But people will have to adjust, as we’ve been doing. It’s wait and see at this point, and we’ll have to see what shakes out with the pandemic,” he said.