Connors ready to welcome Rita’s, two other businesses

New commercial construction has begun in Bethany Beach, with plans to accommodate a few more businesses. By summertime, the owners of the Connor Mall, next to DiFebo’s restaurant, intend to bring a few more stores to Bethany Beach, including Rita’s Water Ice.

Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert: The Connors’ addition to their existing building in Bethany Beach has begun and should be complete by early summer. Rita’s Water Ice will be moving in as soon as construction is completed.Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert
The Connors’ addition to their existing building in Bethany Beach has begun and should be complete by early summer. Rita’s Water Ice will be moving in as soon as construction is completed.

The Connor family — which has owned the land that includes Bethany Beach’s Laundromat, the family package store, a florist and movie rental business along Route 26 for a quarter of a century — is hoping to supply the town with a few more services come Memorial Day of this year. Three more units will be added on within the next few months, each consisting of 1,440 square feet. So far, the water-ice franchise is the only business locked in to a lease agreement.

“The family has been working on the design [for the mall’s expansion] for about a year now,” said J.T. Connor, who along with brother Brad are among the chief owners of the property today. “It usually takes that much time anyway, with permits and all the legal matters you have to go through. [Construction] should definitely be complete by June 15, but we’ve got our fingers crossed that Memorial Day could be it.”

The landlords are actively seeking other tenants for possible rentals.

“A lot of potential people have announced fairly quickly their desire to move into the other two properties fairly quickly,” said Connor, “including restaurants and other stores.” Those business owners have requested their identities remain confidential until approval for the businesses is awarded, Connor said.

Rita’s red-and-white awning has become synonymous with summertime. Their ices, cones, custards and shakes garner big business on a warm spring or summer day. Today, it has grown into the country’s largest Italian ice chain, with more than 400 locations in 15 states and an aggressive growth plan of 1,500 stores by 2010.

Unlike the traditional Rita’s store, which usually only provides walk-up service to its customers, the space in the new Bethany location allows for seating accommodations in the establishment as well, noted the company’s public relations manager, Kelly Banaszak.

“We’re looking forward to our expansion into Bethany,” she said. “It’s always exciting to bring Rita’s taste to a new town.”

Banaszak was not able to confirm whether or not the Bethany location will be open year-round or seasonally, as is the case with most of its beach-dwelling counterparts. Rehoboth and Millsboro both recently celebrated openings of shops in the Italian ice chain.

The Connors’ lot is one of the oldest commercially developed plots in all of Bethany.

“Our property is historical,” noted Connor, “and, fortunately for us, it has always been fully rented.”

Last year, the Connors consolidated the property and did some remodeling, providing space for two more stores, including Bethany Nail Salon and Spa and the women’s fine-clothing store Anything Goes, the retail shop’s second location after a successful establishment in Rehoboth.

“Originally, when our father bought the property,” said Connor, “there was Johnson’s Midway Store that stood there. It was the popular general store of its time. Since then, the owner moved on and we’ve had a lot of success building out from what we started with.”

With construction continuing, shoppers will start to notice a little more than just the addition of new businesses. The gravel parking lot will also be paved over and striped for easier access.

“It’s going to get a new and improved look,” said Connor. “A lot of people always thought that the gravel lot was just additional parking. We’re glad to actually be turning it into what we’ve always envisioned.”