Telling the Stories of Coastal Delaware
By Lynn R. Parks
From the April 2021 issue
It was two decades ago. But Delaware Beach Life editor and publisher Terry Plowman remembers clearly how he felt just before getting his first glimpse of the magazine’s inaugural issue.
“I’ll never forget the mix of excitement and nervousness when I was about to cut open a box of the very first issue,” says Plowman. “I had seen all the pages on a computer screen, but how would they look in print? When I pulled a copy of that first issue out of the box, it was a magical moment to see the magazine I had been thinking about and planning for several years.”
This issue marks the start of Delaware Beach Life’s 20th year. Plowman, who was editor of the Delaware Coast Press newspaper from 1993 through 1998 and owner of The Front Page Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach for 10 years before that, is proud of his publication, and of the comments he regularly hears from the public.
“This sounds corny, but it’s true: The greatest rewards that I get are from readers,” he says. “They contact me by mail, email and phone, or see me on the street, and it never fails: They are always so grateful to have Delaware Beach Life . They love it, and they appreciate it.”
Plowman thought about starting a magazine while still working at the Coast Press. “I knew that the demographics of the area were changing, and that a lot more people were moving here from metropolitan areas,” he recalls. “And those new residents were used to full-color, glossy feature magazines that are common in metropolitan areas. I knew that the area was well-served by local newspapers, but no magazine was serving coastal Delaware.”
He started this one with two goals in mind. First, the magazine would write about coastal Sussex County only. “I have been religious about my commitment to all content being about coastal Delaware,” he says. “I think that readers like that it’s hyper-local.”
And second, it would have the best photography and editorial content possible.
“I was looking for the top writers and photographers in the area,” the longtime Rehoboth-area resident says. Among the latter was Kevin Fleming, who supplied nearly all the cover photographs for Delaware Beach Life’s first several years. “Kevin had worked for National Geographic, and was the best photographer I knew,” Plowman notes. “He brought a top-of-the-line look to Delaware Beach Life.”
In planning his publication, the editor created a rough facsimile of what he wanted to publish, with stories and photos printed by an inkjet printer and inserted into plastic sleeves. “It looked like a book report,” he confesses. “But I took it around to people in the coastal area, potential supporters, and it was pretty remarkable that on the basis of that prototype, they actually trusted in me enough to say, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ I was really lucky that enough business owners were able to get the concept from such a rudimentary prototype.”
Delaware Beach Life started out in 2002 with four issues, June through September, then expanded to six issues (May through October) in 2003. Since 2006, the magazine team has put out eight issues, starting with April and going through the Winter issue, which comes out in November. And speaking of that team, they are all freelancers. Delaware Beach Life has no employees and no central office. “It has always been created in my home office, and in the home offices of our freelancers,” Plowman says, noting that when the 2020 pandemic disrupted normal business practices, the magazine’s contributors were already accustomed to the work-at-home process.
Since its start, the magazine has seen a number of changes. A few “departments,” or regular features, have been added, including Culinary Coast in response to the public’s love of food-related stories; Notable Local, focused on well-known folks in the area; and Best of Beach Life, with stories from the extensive Delaware Beach Life archive. Starting last year, in the midst of the pandemic, Plowman made the digital version of the magazine freely available on the Delaware Beach Life website.
And through it all, Plowman has stuck to his original guiding principles: to have a magazine that’s rooted in and focused on coastal Delaware and to make it the highest quality it can be, visually and editorially. “It was that in the beginning,” he says, “and that hasn’t changed.”