Bethany Beach freezes out snowball sales

Warm summer days at the beach and icy confections go together like peanut butter and jelly, or bikinis and sunscreen. But the days of Bethany Beach residents and vacationers running off the beach or out of their homes at the sound of a ringing bell to get a snowball have become a distant memory. That’s something Melvin McMahon would like to change.

McMahon operates a small group of trucks that sell snowballs each summer from the streets of Ocean View, Fenwick Island and South Bethany. But his snowball vendors aren’t allowed in Bethany Beach, under town ordinances that prohibit most vehicle-based sales and are likely to soon extend that prohibition in firmly eliminating even the traditional sale of produce from farm trucks.

On Friday, Feb. 16, McMahon made a public appeal to the Bethany Beach Town Council to consider reversing the town’s stance on the sale of snowballs, and he did it with an admission: his vendors had come into the town during the summer of 2006 and sold some of the sweet, heat-relieving treats, despite the town’s law.

“We got a call last summer from some residents on Cedarwood,” he recalled. “And they shouldn’t have done it, but some of my guys came up here. And they had an overwhelming response.”

“I agree, it was illegal,” he continued. “But they came again for the next couple days. They rang the bell for 10 or 15 seconds and we sold a couple hundred snowballs. All the kids were very happy.”

McMahon noted that he’d come to town officials several times, including before the summer of 2003, to request permission to legally sell snowballs inside town limits. But they’d refused him, he said.

His plan called only for sales on the four blocks north and south of the boardwalk, McMahon explained, and he was willing to give a percentage of the proceeds to the town, perhaps 50 cents per snowball – the same agreement he has for sales at the state-controlled public beaches.

“It won’t impact the boardwalk merchants,” he promised of the proposed route. “It would be the same clientele as we have in South Bethany. They don’t bring drinks to the beach. This would just be something very family-friendly.”

“I hope the town will look at this a little harder,” he said, noting the requirement for an ordinance change to permit the activity but adding that he traditionally provides free snowballs to both lifeguards and police. “And everybody’s happy.”

“I wonder if the code enforcement official would get a free snowball also,” Town Manager Cliff Graviet quipped in good-natured response to McMahon’s promise of freebies, with chuckles all around.

Making no comment on whether he would support such an ordinance change, Town Council Member Tracy Mulligan asked for confirmation that the proposed sale of snowballs was indeed prohibited.

It is. Under Chapter 100-2 and subsequent permitting sections, only retail sales of farm products, including fruits and eggs, is permitted as an exception to prohibitions on sales from vehicles on town streets. That exception is currently slated to be removed as well, under recent action by the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC).

While that action would seem to point to little chance of an exception for future snowball sales, Mayor Carol Olmstead indicated the council might consider McMahon’s request at a future council meeting.