News & Politics

A Biden Win Could Turn a Beloved Mid-Atlantic Beach Town Into a Presidential Retreat. What Would That Mean for Rehoboth?

Hyannis, Kennebunkport, Crawford.... Delmarva?

Vice President Joseph Biden and his wife, Jill, bought this Rehoboth beach house in 2017 for $2.7 million. Photo courtesy of Google.

Ken Efinger has a summer house in Delaware and a winter home in Palm Beach County, Florida. So he knows what it’s like to be in Palm Beach when President Donald Trump is spending time at his Mar-a-Lago Club, versus what Rehoboth Beach is like when Vice President Joseph Biden is staying at his vacation house there.

“I live seven miles from Mar-a-Lago,” Efinger says. “When he’s in town, it’s hell. Trump wants to have a circus around him. Biden is a very private man. He will not be making it a show.”

That’s been the pattern when the Bidens do get away to the North Shores home they bought in 2017 for $2.7 million. Sometimes people haven’t known he is there until he’s spotted around town—say, at Browseabout Books, St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church, or getting a scoop at Double Dippers or The Ice Cream Store.

“The last time he came down, I saw something in a local blog that somebody was walking along Columbia Avenue at 9 o’clock at night and all of a sudden five black SUVs went by,” says Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns. “Unless he says, I’m taking a retreat for two weeks, I’m going to Rehoboth, I don’t think people will know.”

It’s a small town, though, and word gets out. “Sometimes you see a firestorm on social media: ‘Joe Biden’s in town. I just saw him walking on Rehoboth Avenue,’ ” says Delaware State Auditor Kathleen McGuiness, a Rehoboth native with deep ties to the community. “Other times, you just run into him. When he is in town, and people do see him, everyone is jumping to get a picture. And he’s a gentleman and always kind enough to let people take the selfie or take the picture.”

Though just one-square-mile, the city of Rehoboth nicknamed itself the “nation’s summer capital” because it has attracted senators, cabinet secretaries, and other politicians from Washington, DC. It’s also lured Hollywood stars including Denzel Washington, Richard Gere, and Luke Wilson. Perhaps in keeping with the small-town character of the place, famous visitors often try to blend it.

“People who are here in Rehoboth are here to relax and not really be noticed,” says Mike Kogler, a real estate agent with Long & Foster. “They kind of keep a low profile. They put on their T-shirt and baseball cap and sunglasses and you don’t know who you are sitting next to.”

The security around a Ray Ban-wearing President Joe Biden would make it less likely he could blend in. And, given Biden’s nature, he will likely still want to talk to people who approach him. “If you see him in town, I think people will ask for his autograph,” says Kuhns. “It may be a little more difficult to speak to him as President. But I think, because of his personality, the way he is, he’ll make it easy for people to spend time with him if possible.”

And the town will make it as easy as possible for him to visit as they can—even if that means allowing Marine One to land in a field at the local elementary school. “We want his time here to be enjoyable,” Kuhns says. “If I were president, that’s what I’d want, to be made to feel comfortable. Anything we can do to make Mr. Biden and his family feel more comfortable, that’s what we’ll do.”

Though the Bidens’ house, in a cul de sac about block from the beach, has six bedrooms, it’s not the biggest or most expensive house in North Shores—the last oceanfront property to sell, Kogler says, went for close to $8 million. The Biden house has no fence, making it more open than some former presidential retreats, such as George H.W. Bush’s Kennebunkport, Maine, estate, or John F. Kennedy’s family compound in Cape Cod.  “All those places, they’re like campuses. Kennebunkport, there were gates in front of it,” Kuhns says. “Where [Biden] lives, North Shores, it’s basically single-family homes. I don’t foresee people camping out in his front yard because it’s in the front yards of other people’s houses. I don’t think it will be a spectacle.”

Kuhns isn’t sure that a President Biden being in town will draw lots of extra tourists: “I don’t know if this will attract more crowds; I think they’re already coming. I think people will still come for the beach. And, they might think, Oh, by the way, I might see the President. I don’t see people coming here to Joe Biden watch.”

But a Biden-while-President visit would bring with it an entourage: Secret Service officers, pool reporters, and other staffers. Which is exactly what McGuiness is hoping for: “You’re going to have folks, including the press, who might be staying there, eating there, buying something in the stores. I think you would see an uptick in rental homes, and an influx of more people interested in checking out the community and why was this a chosen destination. That’s a positive economic impact.”

What about the potential traffic and other hassles that an increase in security and tourists could mean? “We already have traffic,” McGuiness says. Locals “know when to go to the grocery store, and when there will be a backup of traffic because it’s 4 o’clock and raining. I don’t see any downsides.”

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Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.