Dolle’s distinctive lettering is gone from the boardwalk, but not from Rehoboth
By Susan Towers
Photographs by Scott Nathan
From the April 2022 issue
A few hundred onlookers watched in silence on a clear winter morning as the familiar orange Dolle’s sign was removed from its perch overlooking the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. It had stood as an iconic landmark in the resort town for 60 years.
“I never thought I’d see the day the sign would come down,” says Tom Ibach, the third-generation owner of Dolle’s Candyland. He was a small child when his grandfather erected the sign.
A team of nine from the Milton-based Rogers Sign Co. worked for hours to remove it, cutting steel supports and making sure the 15-by-30-foot structure didn’t crash to the ground. With a crane and a network of ropes, cables and straps, they slowly lowered it onto a trailer waiting to take it to a nearby storage area. Although weighing more than 3,700 pounds, the sign and the attached steel frame seemed to float down to its resting place, like a feather.
The dismantling wasn’t the last that residents and visitors will see of those welcoming letters. The sign will be mounted on an exterior wall of the Rehoboth Beach Museum where it will be in view of anyone driving into town on Rehoboth Avenue, riding on the nearby bike path or boating along the Lewes-and-Rehoboth Canal. Thanks to the museum’s prominent location, the landmark will continue to be a familiar symbol for Rehoboth Beach, notes J. David Mann III, president of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society and Museum: “It is an opportunity for the museum to do something for the community that will be appreciated by so many.”
Mann says the Rehoboth Beach community includes the millions of people who visit each year and consider the area beaches and boardwalk their own. For many, the sign exemplifies that connection, as it loomed large for a long period in the resort’s history. Ibach’s grandfather and candymaker Thomas Pachides erected a wooden sign announcing the presence of their rebuilt Dolle’s Candyland in 1962, following its destruction during the infamous storm in March of that year. (The business itself dates back to 1926 when it was founded in Rehoboth Beach by Pachides and Rudolph Dolle; they moved it to the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and the boardwalk the following year after purchasing the old YMCA building there.)
Over the decades, the sign had to be regularly repaired and repainted. Kent Sign Co. of Dover did the work initially, with Rogers taking on the maintenance work by the 1970s, including replacing the letter “D,” which fell off in another storm.
Ibach bought the business from other family members in 1996, although he did not purchase the building. Instead, he was given a 25-year lease. In 2002, the wooden sign was in such disrepair that it was replaced by an aluminum one that could better withstand the elements — including winds of up to 140 mph.
Lynn Rogers says his company fabricated the new iteration, which the City of Rehoboth Beach required to look exactly like its predecessor. To hold the lightweight aluminum letters in place, the steel frame was constructed and attached to the building’s roof.
Residents and visitors expected the familiar sight to remain forever, and were surprised to learn in early 2021 that the building had been sold, Ibach’s lease expired, and he was forced to relocate his business. In March, Dolle’s Candyland opened three doors down in the same location as Ibach’s Candy by the Sea. The owner installed a new and smaller Dolle’s sign on that building, and the new owners of the previous location gave him until the end of 2021 to remove the iconic image.
The fate of the sign was unclear for months while conversations took place between the Ibachs, and city and museum officials. Then, on Dec. 27, the municipal Board of Adjustment granted a variance for a number of factors, including size, placement, and other business sign restrictions so the letters could be mounted on the side of the museum. It also helped that a statement in Rehoboth’s 2010 Comprehensive Development Plan described the sign as a landmark to be protected.
“There has been such an outcry about the sign’s removal,” says Ibach’s wife, Florica Balas, who works in the store. “There hasn’t been a day that someone hasn’t come into the store and asked why the sign had to come down.”
Susan Kehoe, owner of Browseabout Books, says there was a rush on Dolle’s memorabilia when the impending change was announced. The items continue to be customer favorites.
Iris Prager, who retired to the Milton area in 2008 from New York, says she has watched her grandchildren grow up in front of that orange sign. “We have taken photos in front of it every time they visit me. It was the obligatory place. No one thought about it not being there.”
Tim Pianca, who grew up in Seaford, says the sign was symbolic of the good times his family had at the beach: “My father was born and raised in Oak Orchard, so Rehoboth was the beach community he loved best. … My earliest memories are from the ’70s.”
Miriam Zadek, who celebrated her 93rd birthday in February, says she and her husband, Bob, have been coming to Rehoboth Beach from Baltimore since 1952, back when they crossed the Chesapeake Bay by ferry. For her, the sign represents laughter and happy memories. One of her favorites is from the 1960s when two of her daughters, then in their early teens, would go into town on summer evenings to sit under the sign.
“They came home and told us they were ‘watching people trip,’ ” she says, thinking they were talking about people being high on drugs. That wasn’t it at all.
“There was one area in front of the bandstand where the pavement was uneven,” Zadek explains. “The girls would count the number of people who tripped there, having the ice cream they just bought flip out of the cone. That was the evening’s entertainment back then.”
Those days are long gone, of course. Sitting near the sign will soon take on all new meaning. And mounting it on the museum wall isn’t a simple task, says Rogers. He carried out a feasibility study and spent hours with museum leadership to decide which wall would be the best new home for it. They decided on the wall facing the canal, where the sign can be easily seen.
“The sign was a locator, an iconic symbol,” says Museum Director Nancy Alexander. “It is unthinkable that it would not be displayed.” The letters will not only get that display — they will be part of the historical society’s existing sign exhibit, found inside on the second floor. “Our exhibit celebrates Rehoboth eateries, accommodations, and activities that people remember from years gone by. People ate, slept and played in these places,” says Alexander.
Rehoboth Beach Mayor Stan Mills, noting the countless photos that were taken with “Dolle’s” as a backdrop, says, “We will certainly miss having the sign stand over our boardwalk.” He adds, however, that “the City of Rehoboth Beach — and I think the larger community — are gratified that the sign will remain in the community, an embodiment and a reminder to generations
of the warm feelings associated with Rehoboth Beach.”