Rehoboth’s Ferrese: “A boomer of a season ahead”
Thirty. That’s how many summers City Manager Greg Ferrese has been getting Rehoboth Beach ready for Memorial Day weekend. During those three decades, he’s smelled a lot of fresh white paint on boardwalk benches, watched the beach narrow and widen with storms and beach replenishment projects and seen lots of change.
“We moved here in January of 1983,” said Ferrese. “It was all rural and beautiful landscapes between Rehoboth and Five Points, and Mr. Charlie Mills planted all of the islands in Route 1 with flowers and tended them himself. I remember my wife needed nylons and the only place she could go to get them was at Ames.”
Ferrese expects to be celebrating his 30th year in Rehoboth with a strong summer season. “I think it’s going to be a boomer of a summer here. I was talking to Donald Derrickson the other day. Donald has lived here all his life and has been in business a long time. He told me that he has never had as many reservations for the SandCastle Motel as he has going into this summer. [The SandCastle is at the corner of Second Street and Rehoboth Avenue in the heart of downtown Rehoboth.] That’s a good sign. Donald always says $100 worth of gas will get you from Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia to Rehoboth Beach and back again. That’s a big deal. People love this area - Rehoboth Beach and all the way from Lewes down to Fenwick Island. It’s beautiful here, and that’s why they come.”
The heavy wooden benches that line Rehoboth’s Boardwalk and the city’s business district have evolved into an important element of the resort’s unique character. Shining with glossy white paint, those benches have taken on an iconic status for the resort. Jeweler Dale Bellinger added them to his Cape Henlopen Collexion of gold and silver charms a few years ago, complete with the backrest that can be positioned forward or backward for viewing the beach or the Boardwalk.
Ferrese said the city puts out hundreds of the benches each year, all of them built and maintained by public works department employees. “They replace the old ones and repaint them all each year. We have them up and down the Boardwalk and Rehoboth Avenue, on First Street, and on Baltimore and Wilmington avenues - the whole central business district. If a business wants one in front of their place, we put one there at no charge to the business. We deliver them, and no one has ever asked us to take one away.”
Ferrese said Rehoboth Beach will have 226 employees - including 54 lifeguards - keeping the resort humming this weekend and through the summer. Of those, 76 are full-time employees and 150 are part-time.
“I’m fortunate to be surrounded with great key people,” said Ferrese. “Tim Bamforth runs the recreation program; Corey Groll handles the Bandstand; Kent Buckson does a great job with the Rehoboth Beach Patrol. We have great department heads and a great police chief. And the ladies in the office also do a wonderful job.”
Ferrese said the city’s meter department deserves special recognition. “They get an awful lot of four-letter worlds thrown at them and they handle themselves well. They’re the department that takes the most abuse. I just tell them to hold back and let the people vent. Some people pay their $50 fines with pennies. Jeanette Clavette, who’s been here in the office for 28 years, still has a special check that one guy sent in. He was mad, of course. He took toilet paper and drew a check on it, with the fine amount, the check number and his signature. Wilmington Trust honored it and Jeanette still has a copy of it. One was worse than that. It was turned over to the U.S. Post Office for investigation.”
For Ferrese, incidents like those go with the territory. He said he expects the new smartphone app that will allow people to feed the meters remotely will help avoid some of the fines that have made them mad in the past. The app will actually send a text message to phones to remind users that their meter will run out in 15 minutes. Will this cut down on the fine revenues the city collects, which fuel the city’s operations?
“The smartphones will cut down on fines, and that’s OK,” said Ferrese. “We’re not in the fine business. This will enable people to add time from where they are - but they can only extend for one hour. We have two-, 10- and 12-hour meters, so people have plenty of options. But the businesses like to have spaces turning over, too.”
Over the years, Ferrese has seen Rehoboth’s summer crowds swell to well more than a million over the course of the season. “And from what everyone is telling me, this season may be the strongest ever.”