Retailers hopeful that multi-million-dollar changes net business traffic

By Christi Milligan

Ongoing work on the nearly 60-year-old Newark Shopping Center is giving retailers and shoppers a hint of the million-dollar changes to come.

Virginia-based Atlantic Realty Companies, Inc. has already expanded the parking lot, and the old Blue Hen Lanes bowling alley was razed in the fall, with plans by a separate developer to build upscale housing aimed at young professionals.

According to Business Wire, officials from Atlantic Realty and partner Angelo, Gordon & Co. plan to make the center pedestrian friendly and have offered a contemporary design that includes:

  • Renovation to the existing structures.
  • The addition of a pedestrian walkway through a retail pavilion to connect the multifamily structure to the Pomeroy Trail.
  • Improvement to traffic lanes and parking.
  • An update to the signage.
  • The replacement of the bowling alley space with 230 upscale residential units and a parking garage.

“The parking lot is being reconfigured fairly significantly,” said Ricky Nietubicz, a planner with the city of Newark and the Downtown Newark Partnership (DNP).

The expanded lot will include a pedestrian connection from residential units to the Pomeroy Trail.

Some stores will stay in their present locations, while others will move into new, larger spaces.

Newark Natural Foods Co-op, a mainstay of the Newark area, will double its size to 18,000 square feet when it moves from just around the corner to the space once occupied by the Newark Department Store. Newark Cinema Center 3, which anchors the rear of the shopping center, will also be renovated.

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Construction at Newark Shopping Center includes renovation to the store fronts and new signage.

Newark Natural Foods general manager Karen Taylor said the great exposure and expansive space will be perfect for the store, which already doubled in size with an expansion six years ago.

“We’ll have 13,000 square feet upstairs, including a café with salad bar and hot bar,” said Taylor, who used to shop at Newark Department Store when she was growing up in nearby Nottingham, Pa. Roughly 5,000 square feet downstairs will house offices and a community room.

Newark Natural Foods is poised to celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, and Taylor said they’re hopeful they can host a grand opening at the same time—sometime in February. She expects to add 18 full- and part-time employees to the store’s roster, including 13 for the café.

“It will be a great thing for the community to have a grocery store within walking distance,” said Taylor, who added that their popular farmers’ market will also double in size.

Atlantic Realty did not return DBT’s phone calls, but hopeful tenants at the shopping center confirmed that the developer intends to pour more than $10 million into infrastructure and facade improvements to update the 180,000-square-foot center.

“They go into old, rundown shopping centers, and they rebuild them,” said Taylor. “They want everyone here to be in an updated unit.”

“A lot of things are changing, and it’s very exciting,” said Marilyn Minster, owner of Minster’s Jewelers.

A fixture of the center, Minster’s Jewelers opened in the ‘50s, and Minster has been a strong cheerleader of the changes.

“It looked tired, but when you got to the infrastructure, it got pretty bad,” said Minster, who also chairs the DNP, a private/public partnership dedicated to the enhancement of downtown Newark. “I’ve been here for 58 years; I’m the last of the originals. It’s very exciting to have this done. I’m staying where I am, but a lot of things are changing.”

For Tina Krieger, manager at Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop in the shopping center, her move across the parking lot will mean bigger real estate, including space for dining in.

“We’ve been here since ’89,” Krieger said. “We’re due. I just have a little bar stool with a counter. The new space will be a lot nicer, and I hope we’ll see an increase in business, especially if people can come in and eat for lunch. We have a lot of people that travel through Newark.”

Drawing retailers to the shopping center would put it in sync with the rest of Main Street, which is relatively booming, according to Nietubicz. He said that the real-estate-services firm, Patterson Woods, named the town the hottest market segment in Delaware.

“We’ve seen an extremely high level of success, and we’re keeping it vibrant,” said Nietubicz. “Certainly, the [University of Delaware] is the largest employer in Newark, and that’s a huge, positive impact. But we’ve become a regional dining destination. We have shops and restaurants that serve a broader population.”

Nietubicz pointed to the low vacancy rate and the relatively quick turnaround for vacant storefronts downtown as indicators of the city’s success.

Minster said the work to Newark Shopping Center will contribute to Newark’s vitality. “It will be a completely different shopping center,” she said. “I’m not only hopeful, I’m positive.”

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