By Christine Facciolo
Special to Delaware Business Times
There’s a saying: Miss a day, miss a lot. If you haven’t walked down Market Street in awhile, you may be surprised at just how quickly things can change.
Downtown Wilmington has been on the upswing for years. But over the past several months, a steady clip of groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings have changed the face of the Market Street corridor.
“It started a little slow but it’s picked up,” said Martin Hageman, executive director of Downtown Visions. “It’s running at breakneck speed. There are cranes everywhere we look and we’re going to continue seeing them for some time.”
Tim McLaughlin, interim managing director of Wilmington Renaissance Corp., is just as bullish. “Progress is being made in Wilmington and the last couple of years in the city have seen an increase in positive changes and much needed growth activity,” he said.
In case you blinked, here are some of the recent additions. UDairy Creamery opened its first off-campus location at 815 N. Market St. a year ago in March. A few months later, Chicky’s Pizza Pub opened at 201 N. Market St., the former home of Extreme Pizza.
More recent debuts include Stitch House Brewery, which began pouring pints in March at 829 N. Market; Margaux, Wilmington’s first full-service French restaurant, which opened in June at 902 N. Market; and 218 Grille, which began serving up home-cooked BBQ that same month in the LOMA district.
Bardea, an Italian restaurant at Seventh and Market streets, which shares the same owners as Market Street’s DiMeo’s Pizza, is slated to open in a few weeks. Tom’s Dim Sum will open soon at 625 N. Market, according to Robert Snowberger, vice president and development manager for Buccini/Pollin Group.
Meanwhile, LOMA has welcomed Eat Clean, a juice bar at 225 N. Market St., the former home of Bain’s Deli.
“The restaurant experience in Wilmington has virtually exploded,” Hageman said. “It seems like a new restaurant is opening up every month. There’s a variety that can satisfy every taste bud.”
Much of the activity has been fueled by the increase in people living downtown, which is fast approaching 3,000, according to Hageman. In the past year alone, Buccini Pollin has added 91 new units to its already extensive portfolio of apartments on the Market Street corridor, including 76 units at 838 N. Market St. and 15 at 618 N. Market St. — not to mention the 200 at The Residences at Mid-Town Park and the 33 units at 200 W. Ninth St.
“Restaurants are one of the things that still work well especially when you’re trying to create a destination for people,” said Snowberger. “So that’s what we focused on this past year.”
Joe Van Horn, owner of Chelsea Tavern, can attest to the benefits of having a critical mass of people living within walking distance of his business. Van Horn, who’s been with Chelsea for eight years, said the restaurant nearly closed the first summer in business when Wilmington claimed a mere 200 residents in its downtown district.
Moreover, he adds that it was the locals who kept things going when construction on The Residences at Mid-Town Plaza caused traffic problems and parking issues. “There was always somebody here until 1 a.m.,” he said. “Now that the [underground] parking garage is finished, we have the tools and things are only going to get better.”
Ben Cordova, owner of Coffee Mode in the Citizens Bank Building, recognizes the duel role of residential and restaurants in growing downtown. “Businesses are being created, jobs are being created, people need places to live and so it keeps bouncing back and forth,” he said.
He credits coffee bars with creating a sense of community downtown. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve introduced who are now doing business with each other.”
Mayor Michael Purzycki said there’s a vibe about Market Street that’s undeniable. “I think it’s something that you feel before it happens,” he said. “I interact with members of the community and everyone feels like the city is really turning a corner and that Market Street in particular is very healthy.”