The Issue: Still Crazy After All These Years

You've got to fight for your right to party in Dewey, even when people think drinking is the town's sole reason for existence.


Published:



Dewey Beach’s party culture will be hotly debated, again, as the town approaches a council election next month. Some candidates would like Dewey to be a tad quieter. Others support bar owners. “I can tell you this: No matter who decides to run, it will be controversial,” Mayor Dell Tush says. “Dewey Beach always is.”
all photographs courtesy of godewey.com

The Grinch That Stole Dewey!” emblazoned on his chest, Jeff Reed and 200 of his closest friends took to the streets of Dewey Beach.

The so-called Grinch who inspired such a demonstration was Dewey mayor Courtney Riordan. In case anyone was unsure, a caricature of Riordan, depicted wearing black shades and smiling, was screen printed on the T-shirt.

Reed’s group made tracks up and down the highway, starting at The Starboard, then stopping at Gary’s Dewey Beach Grill and Northbeach restaurant, to spread the message that Riordan was a big-time party pooper.

Throughout the year, Reed, who runs the social network website GoDewey.com, had seen his beloved Dewey events systematically picked apart. The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control said he couldn’t use beer in the annual beer pong tournament. He couldn’t use scorecards during the yearly round of bar golf. The list of offenses and insults went on.

The force behind the actions, many believed, was the Grinch.

“I’ve been running events in Dewey for years, and last year was the first time I’ve had problems,” Reed says. “Everything we did last year was a nightmare.”

Enough time has passed to permit Starboard owner Steve Montgomery a faint chuckle at the Save Dewey Beach campaign of 2006. Though he’s tried to forget, he recalls the Grinch-shirted protesters stumbling onto The Starboard deck. He recalls the fliers distributed daily, the signs, placards, banners and website updates, urging townspeople to reclaim their burg from a tyrannical mayor. He remembers the big businesses sending tourists into a panic by falsely claiming Dewey would turn into a retirement community. And he remembers personal vendettas, as well as town meetings punctuated by name-calling, like the time Riordan called a prominent local business owner a weasel.

“It was practically a daily battle,” Montgomery says. “It got mean, and early.”

Yes, things in Dewey had gotten just a bit out of hand.

Last year Dewey’s usual animosity was so intense because the old fault line between businesses and town officials was perfectly clear. Thanks to the antics, high jinx and epithets, the town upheld its reputation as the most hotly debated strip of land not named Gaza.

All the while the party raged on. Weekend warriors and retirees—both groups occupying the town in mixed numbers at any given time—continued to coexist like baking soda and vinegar. With Dewey’s notorious party culture in full force, residents were just as likely to see a civil town meeting as a punch-drunk sophomore relieving himself all over Crabber’s Cove. The mood around town was gnarlier than a back-alley dogfight.

“It was, like, we’re only a mile long,” says town commissioner Claire Walsh. “How hard can this be?”

Eighteen blocks of land constantly tangled in political strife and beer-soaked mayhem? As they say in Dewey, it’s a way of life.

Things have quieted down this year. In May a task force comprised of council members, chamber of commerce members, and business owners like Montgomery, Jim Baeurle of the Highway One Limited Partnership (which owns the Bottle & Cork and the Ruddertowne complex) and Rob Marshall of Atlantic View Hotel met to hash out a few issues. Some were minor, like cigarette butts in the sand. Some were major, like the newly revamped business license fees. It wasn’t exactly Berlin, 1989, but it was a start. Folks on both sides seemed happy that the lines of communication were open.

Steering the Good Ship Mediation was Mayor Dell Tush, who first laid eyes on Dewey during her honeymoon there 36 years ago. Tush ran her campaign in 2005, along with fellow commissioners Mike Eisenhauer and Bob Fitzgerald, saying she’d stand up to Highway One. All three were Riordan supporters. Tush, a first-time candidate, wanted to rehab property values while maintaining zoning laws. Like Riordan, she was also a fierce opponent of the town’s decision to let hotels convert rooms into condominiums. Being a tourist town, she says, Dewey needed to keep its hotels intact. Plus, she said, the conversion would be a direct favor to Highway One, which owns Dewey Beach Suites.

Today Tush holds steadfast that even big businesses need to operate by town rules. She also readily commends the bars for the revenue and attention they bring to the town. After all, Tush is a businesswoman herself. She rents out three rooms in her beachside property on Rodney Street. She also operated a traveling antique jewelry business called the Delaware Antiques and Provisions Company that trekked from New York to Florida on a regular basis during the ’90s.

“I really am pro-business, because without them, Dewey is not Dewey,” Tush says. “I can relate to their situations because I know what it’s like to be self-employed and the trials and tribulations and costs.”

Highway One, the 800-pound gorilla that owns 19 Dewey Beach hot spots, is like any other business, Tush says. If the group wants to build a hotel in Dewey, too bad—a town ordinance says no more hotels. Want to raise an existing building higher into the salty stratosphere? Tough luck, she says. The town has a 35-foot height restriction.

“I’m getting tons of phone calls from citizens, saying they don’t want us to be like Ocean City,” Tush says. “They want the small-town atmosphere. The people elected me to do what they wanted. It doesn’t matter what I want or what Highway One wants.”

Tush is up for reelection in September. Though she was in late June still undecided about whether or not to run again, a few specks of mud had already been slung. Thanks to her camaraderie with the businesses, some accused Tush of flip-flopping.

So it isn’t all sunshine and bodyshots in Dewey this year. Two issues on the docket have stirred up unease among leaders on both sides. The first involves business license fees, a major source of income for Dewey. For most businesses, fees were lowered. A few went up. The new system is based on the business, number of occupants and a few other factors. Alcohol-based businesses now pay $1,000, plus another $5 per occupant. So a place like the Lighthouse, which for years has only been paying $700, will dole out $4,600 next year.

The Lighthouse is not happy.

The Lighthouse is also a pivotal cog in the second major issue: the fate of the Ruddertowne complex. Owned by Highway One, the complex encompasses the Rusty Rudder, the Baycenter, the Lighthouse and Crabber’s Cove. In April Highway One filed a plan to tear down Ruddertowne and build townhouses, but that raised another tangle of zoning issues. In May, Tush says, Wilmington-based Harvey-Hannah Associates signed an agreement to purchase Ruddertowne. If everything goes according to plan, the site will be left as commercial.

A decision so big has left businesses around town feeling tense. Though relationships with the council have improved, some think bad old feelings will bubble back up again once town elections get underway.

“I’m not sure how much of those feelings really went away,” Walsh says. “Maybe it’s just a quiet season. Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”

Last year’s storm is still fresh in everybody’s mind. At the center of the maelstrom was Riordan, a 70-year-old environmental protection agent who had made a habit of voting against bar owners’ wishes. Surely there were philosophical differences at hand, but personal issues also got in the way. Riordan and Alex Pires, a leading partner with Highway One, just plain didn’t like each other. In 2003 Riordan called Pires a weasel and a crazy man during a special town meeting.

Then Riordan helped sue his own town in 2004. Twice. First he challenged the condo conversion law, arguing that it violated zoning codes by increasing density. Later he helped residents sue the town over expansion of the Rainbow Cove site (owned by Highway One) for similar reasons.

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May 2018

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

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5105 Kennett Pike
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
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View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
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200 South Madison Street
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View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

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Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

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View map »


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Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
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View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
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5105 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

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Cost: free with admission

Where:
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Telephone: 800-448-3883
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Cost: Free

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View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8283
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Try practicing yoga in a beautiful garden setting, strengthening your body and spirit. Our yoga class is open to all levels. We will practice slow, easy motions to get into the rhythm of nature....

Cost: $10

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

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A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

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Story Time Thursdays 10:30 - 11 a.m. Enjoy fun animal stories read by our own zoo story-telling team! Story time takes place in the otter circle, in the main zoo, and may include a craft,...

Cost: $7 - $0

Where:
Brandywine Zoo
1001 North Park Drive
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Telephone: 302-571-7747
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Charity Golf Event to benefit Children's Beach House A great way to start your Memorial Day weekend a day early! Make sure to register as a single golfer or register your foursome ahead of...

Cost: $225 Single Golfer / $900 Foursome

Where:
Peninsula on Indian River Bay
26937 Bay Farm Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: The Ocean Atlantic Companies
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Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
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Join us on The Patio, voted Best Outdoor Dining by Delaware Today readers! Happy hour 4PM - 6:30PM, live entertainment 6PM - 9PM, local craft beer, handcrafted cocktails, creative gastropub menu,...

Cost: menu items vary

Where:
Hilton Christiana
100 Continental Dr.
Newark, DE  19713
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Relax and unwind after a long day with the Museum’s popular Happy Hour series. Enjoy live music on the terrace with friends or tour the galleries indoors. Special themed nights will be scheduled...

Cost: Museum galleries are open with free admission every Thursday from 4–8 pm

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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  Join Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant as they open their doors to the public on May 24, 2018!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
19815 Coastal Hwy
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

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Alexi Natchev: Prints and Drawings will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from May 4-25, 2018. A free opening reception to meet the artist will be held on Friday, May 4 from 5-7 p.m. Alexi...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
2nd Floor, Carvel State Office Building
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8283
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

More information

  Join Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant as they open their doors to the public on May 24, 2018!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
19815 Coastal Hwy
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
View map »


Sponsor: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Sixth annual St. Catherine of Siena Community Garage Sale held in Church parking lot. One-stop shopping! Approximately 25 homes gather in one location to make your garage sale shopping...

Cost: $25/Consignors ONLY

Where:
St. Catherine of Siena Parish Parking Lot
2503 Centerville Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: St. Catherine of Siena
Telephone: 302-239-1699
Contact Name: Mary Gispert
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The 11th annual Artisans Fair, featuring unique handcrafted art objects, will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Lord Baltimore Elementary School on Route 26 in Ocean View, DE. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lord Baltimore Elementary School
Route 26
Ocean View, DE  19970
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Sponsor: South Coastal DE AARP Chapter
Telephone: 302-732-6336
Contact Name: Ida Crist
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

More information

Science Saturday – River Rangers River Rangers learn how to gauge the health of our local waterways by observing the variety of critters living in it. Visitors of all ages are invited to...

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

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