While the old building has been torn down, the Dairy Sweet business will return in a new, larger building at the same site, sharing space with Bob Johnson's Computer Stuff.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated Jan. 22 at 9:55 a.m., with new information from Bob Johnson, the owner of the property.
After more than 60 years in business, the Dairy Sweet on U.S. Route 13 and North Street in Smyrna was demolished this week.
The final day of business at the old building was Dec. 17, 2017.
However, fans of ice cream and cheese steaks shouldn't worry. The business will return in a new building at the same site.
Property owner Bob Johnson is planning a two-story building at the site, with the Dairy Sweet and space for another retail business on the first floor, and his computer business, Bob Johnson's Computer Stuff, on the second floor. His computer business is in the Smyrna Business Park, but he plans to lease that location to another tenant when the new building is finished at the Dairy Sweet site.
"We should be able to start construction in a week or two, depending on the weather and the permit process," said Johnson. "Six-to-eight months is the estimated build time, but if the weather is kind, we might be able to make it in five."
Johnson bought the Dairy Sweet from longtime owners Walter and Betty Jo Ireland who closed the business in July 2016 and put the property up for sale. They had taken over for a previous owner who had opened the business in 1953.
Johnson bought the building, planning to eventually move his computer business to the site.
Then he received a call from two men who were interested in operating the Dairy Sweet restaurant and ice cream stand: Paul Masone, owner of Uncle Mike's Ice Cream and Water Ice in Middletown, and Rick Griffith, owner of Charlie's Ice Cream and Frozen Ice just south of Smyrna.
The restaurant reopened as Charlie's and Uncle Mike's at The Dairy Sweet in December 2016.
Johnson decided on a plan for a new building at the site for both his computer business and the Dairy Sweet.
Then he heard about a program called the Downtown Development District which provides funding for construction projects in designated districts, and he found out the Dairy Sweet property is in the district.
"I hadn’t planned to move forward with the construction for a couple of years, but Smyrna’s DDD designation and availability of the DDD grant program made me reconsider and move up the schedule," he said.
The new Dairy Sweet building is one of 16 revitalization projects that have been approved to receive $3.56 million in grant funding in the Downtown Development District program. Along with the Smyrna project, other locations that received grants include Wilmington, Dover, Milford and Harrington.
The Downtown Development District program reimburses property owners for 20 percent of a building project.
DAIRY SWEET RENOVATIONS THROUGH THE YEARS
The Dairy Sweet building that was demolished wasn't exactly the original building. The first building was a walk-up stand, and then additions were made including an enclosed seating area.
The building with the additions was about 900 square feet.
Johnson has proposed a 6,400 square-foot, two-story building. The first floor will include about 1,000 square feet for the new Dairy Sweet and about 2,000 square feet for another retail business. The entire second floor will be the new location for Bob Johnson's Computer Stuff.
He's planning to keep part of that good old-fashioned Dairy Sweet look, though.
"We have the iconic blue sign with the ice cream cone that was on top of the building, and we're planning to take that and have it restored," said Johnson. "It will be up to the guys running Dairy Sweet how they're going to use it. We'll probably have to wait until the building is finished to see how it's going to work best."
Johnson said when the new building is finished, he plans to leave the Smyrna Business Park and rent his current store and workshop to another business.
With the new location on U.S. Route 13, Johnson said his computer business will have more visibility while the Dairy Sweet will have a modern location to serve good old fashioned treats.
"The Dairy Sweet folks are on board with this as we transition to a new restaurant," said Johnson. "It will be really nice with all new equipment."