The Health Of Wilmington's Downtown Business District

Jul 30, 2018

In downtown Wilmington, businesses come and go. Crust Kitchen and Cocktails Restaurant just opened on Princess Street. Another restaurant, Grace and 2nd, just closed on Grace. And GDN – Guys Do Nails – is about to open on Princess. Downtown will always be, on some level, a revolving door of businesses.

Ed Wolverton keeps a close watch on downtown business. As President & CEO of Wilmington Downtown Inc., that’s his job.

“We tend to be a little bit better with our openings. We do track both openings and closings, so on a net basis we tend to be between five and 20 for each individual year. Just kind of depending on the particular business cycle, but we do watch that very closely, we do tend to be on a net positive each year.”

He defines the downtown business district as between the bridges, from the water to 5th Avenue. In the fiscal year that just ended, Wolverton says 11 restaurants opened and 11 closed… two galleries opened while three closed, seven shops opened while 11 closed, and 21 others business, like a taproom, opened and 12 closed. That’s a net gain for this last year of four businesses.

(Rebellion juke box – “Fortunate Son”)

Rebellion just opened on Front Street. The bar-restaurant took the former Buzz’s Roost location.

“My name's Chuck Archer, the General Manager of Rebellion, and former general manager at Front Street Brewery for the last seven and a half years.”

Archer is in a competitive business. Food and drinks. He says for a new business, Rebellion is doing well.

“Good business increases week by week. I'm seeing a lot of good things coming from the downtown sundown concert series, so Fridays have definitely picked up and good weekday traffic, so that's been really nice and rolling out our new lunch menu is definitely helped with earlier in the day of business.”

Archer says there is a simple plan any new business needs to follow downtown.

“Operating capital is always first and foremost, and then marketing broadly falls in close second. You have to let everybody that's in town know that you're here and with the tourist industry being the way that it is in Wilmington, not just downtown, you have to have outreach to the beaches and surrounding areas as well. We exist.”

Dawn Carter agrees. She’s Vice President of First Bank on Market Street. They invest in new businesses.

“Yes. I would say that probably is the biggest problem for people who come in to see us is you need something to live on and something to fall back on. Not only if you think your business can work, there's the startup period of getting it started, whether you have to renovate a building to get what you need, you have expenses during that time and how are you going to pay for those expenses?”

Different types of business have different needs. Art galleries for example. They are seen as destinations, especially on Fourth Fridays. Miriam Oehrlein owns New Elements Gallery. 

“You have to have enough foot traffic, to find that person that does want to buy a larger piece of art. So I know at the beginning of the month I have so many larger pieces of art to sell, but we need to sell jewelry and pottery and everything in order to be accessible to everyone. You don't want to be inaccessible to anyone really.”

She’s says she’s making it. So is Gems4u, a handmade jewelry store that also sells local art downtown.

“Well we have about 60 percent repeat business, which is phenomenal, which we’re just so excited about.”

Mary Sedcieski owns Gems4u. She says it hasn’t been easy. To succeed, it’s a whole lot of work.  

“I just think it's the drive and just continuing to get something new in the window, continuing to just think of new ideas and, and working as hard as we possibly can for the business.”

WDI’s Ed Wolverton says there remain vacant storefronts and buildings downtown. In recent weeks a couple have been purchased and will be renovated. But he says businesses will always close, and open, and close again...

Note:  New Elements Gallery is an underwriter of WHQR - Friends of Public Radio.