Vince’s Sports Cen­ter in Ne­wark to close this fall

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By KARIE SIM­MONS Spe­cial from the Ne­wark Post

NE­WARK, DEL. — Af­ter 36 years, Vince’s Sports Cen­ter in Brook­side will close its doors for good in Novem­ber.

The fam­ily- owned busi­ness, which fea­tures a mini- golf course, Par- 3 golf course, base­ball field, bat­ting cages and an ar­cade, has been in op­er­a­tion since 1981, how­ever, owner Phil San­tucci said it has be­come dif­fi­cult to sus­tain the large prop­erty so he de­cided to close.

“It’s sort of the end of an era, but the start of a new be­gin­ning as well, kind of like the rise of the phoenix,” he said. “We weren’t ready to close; we weren’t ready to sell the prop­erty, but the op­por­tu­nity came up and we were ready to make a change.”

San­tucci is sell­ing the land to Lidl, a no- frills Euro­pean su­per­mar­ket chain, and plans to ei­ther re­lo­cate Vince’s to a smaller site or open an­other sort of amuse­ment fa­cil­ity some­where in Delaware in 2019.

“I’m from Penn­syl­va­nia, but Delaware is my home­town,” he said. “I want to stay here.”

Lidl has been pur­su­ing plans to build a store on the site since last fall. The com­pany’s con­cep­tual plan calls for a 36,000- square­foot store on the front por­tion of the prop­erty, lo­cated at the cor­ner of East Chest­nut Hill and Gen­der roads. The back por­tion — ap­prox­i­mately 70 per­cent of the 17.5- acre lot — was orig­i­nally slated to be pre­served as open space un­til an ad­vi­sory group made up of res­i­dents from the sur­round­ing Brook­side, Scot­tfield and Breeze­wood neigh­bor­hoods asked the de­vel­oper to con­sider adding a restau­rant.

The most re­cent ver­sion of the plan shows a 5,000- square- foot restau­rant, re­sult­ing in slightly less open space, but the ac­tual size of the restau­rant could change de­pend­ing on the ten­ant.

“That would be phase two,” said Shawn Tucker, a Wilm­ing­ton, Del., land use lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the com­pany. “That would not be con­structed un­til an ac­cept­able user was found.”

The Lidl chain be­gan in Ger­many and has be­come a ma­jor player in the Euro­pean gro­cery in­dus­try with ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 stores across 27 coun­tries. Its stores are about half the size of a tra­di­tional Amer­i­can su­per­mar­ket and sell mostly the com­pany’s own pri­vate- la­bel prod­ucts.

Lidl is now en­ter­ing the United States mar­ket and re­cently es­tab­lished a U. S. head­quar­ters in Ar­ling­ton, Va. It also an­nounced plans to build three distri­bu­tion cen­ters on the East Coast, in­clud­ing one in Per­ryville, ap­prox­i­mately 20 miles west of Ne­wark. Its first Delaware store is slated to open in Mid­dle­town later this month.

In or­der for the gro­cery store and restau­rant to move for­ward there, Lidl must ap­ply for a re­zon­ing from the county. Tucker said he ex­pects the pro­ject to go be­fore the county’s plan­ning board next month.

The prop­erty is split into two parcels, and the front por­tion, which cur­rently con­tains a mini- golf course and the build­ing, is zoned com­mer­cial. The back por­tion, which con­tains the Par- 3 golf course, is zoned res­i­den­tial. While much of the prop­erty will con­tinue to be zoned res­i­den­tial, Lidl needs county ap­proval to change the boundary be­tween the two zon­ings to ac­com­mo­date the gro­cery store, Tucker said.

The com­pany also needs the county to lift a deed re- stric­tion that lim­its the use of the prop­erty to in­door amuse­ment fa­cil­i­ties.

Ever since San­tucci an­nounced Vince’s would be clos­ing — the last day is slated for some­time be­fore Thanks­giv­ing — he said cus­tomers, res­i­dents and for­mer em­ploy­ees have been reach­ing out to say they’re sad to see it go.

“Just about ev­ery five sec­onds, pretty much,” San­tucci said. “I’ve had cus­tomers tear up and it makes me tear up too.”

He said Vince’s has played an im­por­tant role in many peo­ple’s lives from first dates to birth­day par­ties to en­gage­ments on the mini golf course. He even planted most of the trees on the prop­erty with his par­ents when he was a teenager and marked his chil­dren’s heights on the wall as they grew up. Some­where on the prop­erty, their names are writ­ten in the ce­ment, he said.

“It’s been our home. I would call it a home,” San­tucci said. “It’s been a la­bor of love for sure.”

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

The Ger­man gro­cery store chain Lidl is propos­ing to build a store on the site of Vince’s Sports Cen­ter on East Chest­nut Hill Road in Ne­wark, Del.

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