Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rehoboth's new tent, BBQ ban receiving mixed reviews

James Morrison
Delaware Public Media
Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk

On summer holidays like Memorial Day, beaches can get pretty crowded. Now, to ease the congestion, Rehoboth Beach has banned tents, canopies and barbecues.

And while these restrictions may please some beach goers, they’re frustrating for a few business owners who think tourists may take their gear -and their wallets- elsewhere.

Rehoboth Beach attracts 7 million people a year—mostly in the summertime. As this one-mile beach swells with visitors each summer, tents and canopies have started to become an issue. Mae Truman, who’s local to the area, was visiting a couple years back when she was nearly crowded by a tent.

“There was a lady next to us. She had an area and a nice view of the beach. A family came in and squeezed in about a foot away from her and they put a tent up right in front of her and her family,” she said.

And things get pretty hot on the beach when you block someone’s view.

Credit James Morrison / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Rehoboth Beach on an empty day.

The Rehoboth Beach Patrol has had to break up numerous fights in recent years over people using tents.

And Rehoboth Beach Patrol Captain Kent Buckson said tents were, frankly, becoming a nuisance. 


“We can’t have people coming down here and creating these tent cities with three or four popup tents with 30-50 people underneath them.  They’re bringing all types of coolers down to the beach and leaving all sorts of trash behind," said Buckson. "We need to make the beach the beach and the campground the campground.”


And Rehoboth Beach Chamber of Commerce President Carol Everhart has been hearing complaints from visitors as well.

“They came to relax, view the ocean. Spread out their blanket. And with all of the equipment that was coming into the beach. They just couldn’t do that,” Everhart said. “They were complaining about lack of space. They were complaining about the cooking product and what that was producing in the way of smell and trash. And they were complaining about the ability to view the ocean.

And the chamber has reason to try to keep them happy.  It estimates tourists spend -on average- $150 a day in Rehoboth.

So Everhart worked with the city council to pass an ordinance that bans tents, canopies and barbecues on the beach starting this summer (May 15). Umbrellas up to 8 feet in diameter and baby tents up to three feet wide are still allowed. The restrictions are nearly identical to ones passed by Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2015.

But some business owners aren’t pleased with the new restrictions.

“Anything that’s negative, that they say no to, will drive people away,” said Jay Levy, who manages the Tidal Rave 5 & 10 on Rehoboth’s boardwalk.

He thinks the city council is hurting his business by over regulating the beach.

“They listen to too much of the whining. This one whines. That one whines. Shut up and be happy that you have all these people coming down here from Pennsylvania, Washington and all over. Don’t ruin it with stupidity,” Levy said.

Credit James Morrison / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Sunsations' Melissa Williams shows off an 8' umbrella -the largest allowed under the ordinance.

But other businesses in town see an opportunity. Melissa Williams runs Sunsations, about a block away from Levy’s store.

Her window display is full of six-, seven- and eight-foot umbrellas, which are now the only shade game in town. 

“This one has a built-in anchor. It’s right on the pole, which is really cool because anchors are part of the ordinance,” Williams said. 

Williams is banking on people coming to the beach with canopies and tents and realizing they can’t use them. Then those people will visit her store to buy an umbrella.

“We even have the ordinance posted in the window,” she said.

Credit James Morrison / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Ordinance in the window of Sunsations.

Many business owners say it’s too soon to know whether the tent ban will hurt sales. And so far, a lot of visitors we've talked to like the idea of keeping tents off the beach.

The barbecue ban, however, could be a tougher sell.

“So I can understand why they’re doing it -for safety reasons. But I still think barbecuing is a tradition,” said Peter Wrightsman, who was visiting Rehoboth from Baldwinsville, New York. 

With this ordinance, cold cuts may be the new tradition.