It’s been more than 20 years since Jeff Sandler and Vinny Munno, then mobile DJs living in Boca Raton, were searching for a place to call their own in South Florida. They made it a habit to check out large, empty buildings that were available for rent, look inside, and maybe even call the agent to have a tour.
“We’d be driving down the street and we’d see an Eckerd that went out of business,” Munno says, referring to the defunct drugstore chain. “And we would stop and peek in the window and say, ‘Boy, this would make a great ballroom.’ … It was really just a game at first.”
“I don’t remember it being a game,” Sandler counters playfully.
“OK, not so much a game,” Munno says. “More like a dream.”
Sandler completes the story: “We wanted a place of our own that we could make a premier dance facility, where we could have dance lessons and dancing shows and it would be ours.”
Both accomplished ballroom dancers who won pro-am competitions—Sandler, an artist born in Massachusetts, and Munno, a DJ from New Jersey—the pair met while Sandler was emceeing a party. It dawned on Munno that he was making less money than Sandler at his bank job. They fell in love and went into business together, hosting dance parties at community centers such as the Polish American Club. With handmade sandwiches and Entenmann’s cakes, they entertained crowds several nights a week while looking for a space big enough to be a ballroom.
Their dream was fulfilled at 1415 Lyons Road in Coconut Creek, at a former drugstore with 3,000 square feet of unobstructed space. Their target opening date was New Year’s Eve 1996, but they didn’t receive their certificate of occupancy until Dec. 23, 1997—just in time to open on Christmas Day. More than 300 fans showed up that night, ushering in the heyday of Goldcoast Ballroom.
“We used to have a show every Saturday night,” Munno says. “The communities would get together and make reservations for 100 people—Wynmoor, the Boca Golf and Country Club, the tennis club at Kings Point in Tamarac. None of them were really dancers, but they came because we had a sandwich and salad and cake and coffee and a show and music. You’d have to make a reservation three months in advance to come in on Saturday night.”
In January 1999, they were able to stop hosting dances at other community centers and they dedicated themselves full time to Goldcoast. Besides their regulars, who knew them from their mobile dance parties, their popularity was bolstered by the 1998 film “Dance With Me,” a love story with dance figuring prominently in the plot.
But hard times arrived in 2001. First, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 affected the number of snowbirds who visited. Then, in February 2003, the Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island, which killed 100 people and injured 230, brought on stricter laws on building capacities. Fire marshals lowered Goldcoast’s occupancy from 843 to 680, or 402 seated capacity.
“We had more reservations than 402 on a weekly basis, so we had to tell people that were coming from the beginning that they could no longer come here on Saturday night,” Munno says.
Business picked up again with the popularity of the 2004 film “Shall We Dance?” and the 2005 premiere of “Dancing with the Stars” on television.
“[Ballroom dancing] became a household thing,” Sandler says. “It really wasn’t before that. [Ballroom] dancing became mainstream. Even if people didn’t do it, they thought about it.”
Munno adds: “[‘Dancing with the Stars’] saved us, actually, because we were really going down at that point.”
With Munno and Sandler’s connections in the dancing world, Goldcoast has hosted world-famous dancers, such as Karina Smirnoff of “Dancing with the Stars” fame and dance competitions, as well as annual holiday parties, including a “white party” every Christmas. Locally, they are perhaps best known for their lessons taught by professional dance instructors and special guests. There are afternoon and evening social dances as well with themed nights such as Latin, disco and more. Most nights, people walk in, buy a ticket, get coffee and desserts, and take advantage of a complimentary dance lesson before the event.
In October 2015, Munno and Sandler found their fame had gone national when they were mentioned on “Jeopardy.” The question: “Coconut Creek, Florida, boasts the Goldcoast this space for the dancing of the same name, with a 60’ by 40’ oak floor.” (The answer, of course, was “ballroom,” and Munno notes that the floor is technically 68 feet long and 42 feet wide.)
“My mother texted me within 30 seconds,” Munno says. “She said Goldcoast was an answer on ‘Jeopardy.’ And I was like, ‘Did you take your medication, Mom?’ I didn’t believe her.”
Despite his incredulity, Sandler and Munno shouldn’t be too surprised. Indeed, they are proud of Goldcoast’s international reach. One time, they were recognized on the streets of Paris. Their landlord recently told them that on a trip to China, a woman he met at an airport told him that she dances at Goldcoast Ballroom when in Florida.
Sandler and Munno happily have formed a family among their clients and instructors. Two instructors, Phil and Tanya Palma, met at Goldcoast. Another dance instructor pair, Bruce and Beth Perrotta, married at Goldcoast in July 2007, after their ceremony at Plantation Heritage Park was rained out. (For their part, Munno and Sandler have remained business partners although they ended their romantic relationship after 22 years. Munno is now married.)
Although Sandler says the last few years haven’t been easy for Goldcoast financially, its place as one of Coconut Creek’s landmarks has been cemented. It has helped to put Coconut Creek on the map, attracting residents and international visitors.
“People know Goldcoast Ballroom all over the world, and that’s why they know Coconut Creek,” Munno says.
This is the last in a series of articles celebrating Coconut Creek’s 50th anniversary.