Antonino Piraino and Eric Mears had a eureka moment while driving home from an under-21 dance club in Ocean City, Md., last summer.
“We had just driven two hours to go this club, and we started asking ourselves, ‘Why isn’t there something like this is Delaware,’” Piraino recalled this week. “Why isn’t there something like this in Middletown?”
From that moment on, the aspiring entrepreneurs say they have dedicated themselves to launching a nightclub for teens between the ages of 14 and 18.
Now, their dream is just a few dance steps away from becoming a reality.
On Thursday, the Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the teens receive the conditional-use permit they would need to open a club in a 1,570-square-foot retail space next to Mid-County Bowling Lanes in the Middletown Square Shopping Center.
Piraino and Mears must now seek final approval from Middletown Town Council, which is expected to hear their permit request on June 3.
“We hope they accept us with open arms and give us an opportunity to prove ourselves,” said Mears, who will graduate from Middletown High School on Sunday.
“We think we can have a real positive influence on the community,” added Piraino, who will receive his diploma from Appoquinimink High School on the same day. “We’re hoping they just give us a chance.”
The best friends, who met while attending kindergarten at Red Lion Christian Academy, say they plan to name the club Antrics – a mash-up of their first names.
They envision the dance hall operating from 8:30 p.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday during the summertime, with only Friday and Saturday hours from September to May.
And they would personally serve as deejays for the 200 teens they believe will be willing to pay the $15 entrance fee for a chance to show their moves on the club’s 800-square-foot dance floor.
“All the music will be edited versions without swearing,” Piraino said. “We really want the whole thing to be all about good, clean fun and to show people that kids can have a good time without drugs or alcohol.”
Nothing stronger than soda would be served and Antrics, where as many as three private security guards would check guests for illegal contraband, while an off-duty police officer, hired through a separate firm, also would be on hand at all times.
“Safety is our biggest concern,” said Mears, who developed the business plan for Antrics as his senior project. “We’ll do whatever we have to, so things like fights and kids drinking in the parking lot don’t happen.”
Page 2 of 2 - “It’s the parents who will decide whether their kids can go,” Piraino added. “So we know it has to be a place that parents feel like they can drop their kids off and without having to worry about them.”
The teens, who say they have the backing of multiple investors, believe they could have Antrics open as early as July 4th weekend if they win approval from town council next month.
“We’ve got a lease and other contracts that are just waiting on this final approval before we sign them,” Mears said.
And once that happens, they’re certain their first business venture will be a success.
“There’s not a lot for teenagers to do in Delaware, except go to the movies, bowling or ice skating, and you get tired of doing the same thing over and over again,” Mears said.
“And that’s why they end up getting in trouble; because they don’t have anything to do,” Piraino said. “We drove two hours just to find something to do in Ocean City, so we feel pretty confident that other people will want to come here.”