Vince’s Sports Center in Newark to close this fall
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.”
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.