Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Washington Post Highlights the Starboard in Dewey Beach

Bethany Beach partner Dick Heidenberger is involved with the Starboard in Dewey Beach. The Washington Post FRONT PAGE article on Memorial Day outlines how Dewey is trying to change it's image to more of a family town. I guess it would like to emulate Bethany Beach.

Here's the article from the Post. (Note: Steve Montgomery is Monty)

DEWEY BEACH, Del. -- As mid-Atlantic beach towns go, Dewey Beach is a bit like the cool guy in school -- the one with the motorcycle and the tattoos. He's fun, he's wild and you could never bring him home to Mom.

But now, Dewey insists it's all a big misunderstanding. Sure, he says, he has a checkered past, but he's a changed man, and he deserves more respect.

Starting this season, Dewey has launched an ambitious, unprecedented marketing campaign to convince families that they are the town's most important customers. The effort to prioritize tetherball over tequila shots and bonfires over beer could represent a major shift for the town that has always been defined primarily by its oldest bars.

"There's already enough happening for the college kids and the young adults, but there's never been much going on for kids," Dewey Beach Mayor Dell Tush said. "The balance just got a little out of whack."

It's hard to dispute Dewey's wild side.

On Friday night, the official opening of summer, hundreds of drunken 20-somethings stumbled down Route 1, popping in and out of the dozen bars that line the main drag. The most popular spots had lines. Many women ignored the unseasonably cool weather, sporting miniskirts, halter tops and stilettos.

"Dewey rocks!" one intoxicated young woman shrieked as she tottered down the street. "Whooooo, this is so much fun!"

Dewey wants to show families that there is fun for them, too. The town's seven-month-old marketing task force has spent $10,000 on new activities to do just that. The Chamber of Commerce's new slogan, "Nightlife Plus," emphasizes activities such as family bonfires and PG movies on the beach.

"It's fine to have a lot of people who like to come down and drink and party at the bars, but that's not the only town we are," said Dale Cooke, a town council member who serves on Dewey's marketing committee. "That reputation was well-deserved at one point, but reputations are hard to get rid of even when things have changed."

What has changed, Cooke and other town officials say, is not a decrease in the amount of nightlife options in tiny Dewey -- in fact, four new restaurants and bars are opening this season -- but an increase in the offerings for the non-bar-hopping crowd. They hope that the town will come to be known not just for its nighttime revelry, but for its beach fun as well.

* * *

Dewey's image as Delaware's answer to Cancun or South Beach started from its earliest days. Although its larger neighbors, Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach, evolved from church retreat camps, Dewey -- which incorporated in 1981 -- grew in popularity because visitors were allowed to imbibe on the beach. Since then, the town's summer population has ballooned to as many as 30,000 on the weekend, compared with slightly more than 300 during the off-season.

Today, drinking on the beach is allowed during the off-season but prohibited from May 15 to Sept. 15. During the Memorial Day weekend last year, as many as 250 people were escorted off the beach daily for violating the policy.

The town's signature group houses are almost as old as the town itself; owners began renting their homes to revolving groups of up to 20 young people in the mid-1980s, and the practice has continued ever since. The houses develop identities, which are generally based on heavy drinking. One beachfront home, called the House of Dewbauchery, advertises itself as the "most fun-loving, drink-swilling, booty-shaking, fool-making house in all of Dewey!"

Few people have profited as much from the town's party culture as Steve Montgomery, the affable owner of the Starboard, the beach bar legendary for its nearly round-the-clock alcohol offerings and make-your-own Bloody Marys. Yet bar owners are some of the biggest advocates for changing Dewey's image; Montgomery was one of three founding members of the marketing task force.

Montgomery, who also owns two bars in Washington, said he wants the town's trademark bars to live on but does not want them to define the town. Although some businesses in Dewey -- particularly the Starboard and the Bottle and Cork nightclub -- have made major efforts to sell themselves in the Washington, Philadelphia and New York regions, the latest effort is the town's first marketing effort.

"There have never been a lot of things for kids to do, and I think people get scared off by the reputation," Montgomery said. "It's a great beach, but there's no boardwalk like in Rehoboth or Bethany, not even an arcade. We've got to make this a friendlier place."

Montgomery and the 31-person task force, which formed in October, compiled a list of 20 ways to lure families to Dewey and increase business during the week. Using a $10,000 grant from the city, they initiated two-large scale efforts for this summer: Monday movies on the beach and Wednesday beach bonfires.

Still, task force members are not expecting an immediate change in Dewey's hard-partying ways. Memorial Day weekend, typically the craziest few days of the year, marks the debut of the town's 38 seasonal police officers, who join a staff of eight year-round officers.

After last year's Memorial Day weekend, Tush called an emergency meeting of town officials to address complaints about drinking on the beach, littering and raucous, intoxicated young people causing trouble at all hours of the night.

"They kind of trashed the town," the mayor said. "Many, many people were not being respectful."

This weekend, early reports indicated fewer problems, an improvement attributed mostly to stepped-up enforcement that resulted from the meeting last year. Police officers stood outside every bar, along the sidewalks and on the beach.

Still, Route 1 was as loud and debauched as ever, with people stumbling out of cabs, beer cans in hand, and men whistling at women in low-cut shirts. The late-night lines at Grotto Pizza were formidable, and more than one person had vomited in the gutter.

Montgomery, who performed odd jobs on the beach as a child and began working at the Starboard 22 years ago, said he loves Dewey's spirit during the summer, but he is concerned that the town's party reputation is alienating some of its most loyal patrons. He frequently encounters married couples who met in Dewey group houses -- a list that includes U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. -- who want to return to town with their families.

"I meet these people who want to bring their kids, and I know I can't be selfish and say, 'This is a bar town' anymore," he said.


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