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Downtown Dover businesses’ focus: Unlock the Block

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Diane Laird
Guest Columnist

Dover’s downtown property vacancy is declining as local leaders strategize ways to attract small business owners.

Several projects are underway to create a vibrant downtown that will attract and keep businesses. These include the redevelopment of Loockerman Way Plaza and the relocation of both the post office and Family Court that is anticipated to secure downtown locations in the near term.

As new businesses have opened or expanded along Loockerman Street, shoppers can now find a new print shop, vintage clothing and sneakers, cupcakes, puddings and dessert-shakes, unique fashions, and special occasion dresses.

In addition, more businesses have signed leases but have yet to open their doors. Several are anticipated to open following the launch of Unlock the Block, a business expansion and recruitment strategy that is currently helping market three to five vacant properties.

Unlock the Block rose out of the Economic Development Working Group of Restoring Central Dover, an initiative of Delmarva-based nonprofit NCALL. Guiding and overseeing the initiative are small business resource partners that include the City of Dover, Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Dover Partnership, Division of Small Business, NCALL, the Small Business Development Center, and True Access Capital (formerly First State Community Loan Fund). The strategy launched in 2018 and has so far resulted in a new professional office and a dessert shop.

Businesses that wish to significantly expand in footprint, inventory, or product – and even to open a second business – will be eligible to apply to the program. Selectees will be awarded a customized package that could include a combination of targeted technical services, monetary reimbursements, or other incentives.

Selected through the first launch of Unlock the Block, Monique Walker opened Sweets & Treats at 147 S. Governors Ave. in May. Previously a very successful operator of a kiosk at Christiana Mall, she sold out of inventory most weekends.

“I brought to Dover all the best sellers and more, including ice cream and milkshakes, banana pudding, cookie dough and strawberry crunch cupcakes, and frozen drinks at special pricing on Thirsty Thursdays!” Walker also sells at the Capital City Farmers Market on Wednesdays.

Husband-and-wife team Don Beamer (owner of Duck Creek Printing), and Tina Hudson-Beamer recently opened their doors in downtown Dover. Tina’s Timeless Threads features a variety of authentic clothing and accessories from’40s to the ’80s. Tina secured a “pop up” lease for three months and has signed a long-term lease at her 111 W. Loockerman St. location. Don relocated his print shop from Smyrna to a space adjacent to Tina’s shop.

Additional new business owners include co-owners Tammy Robinson and daughter Ashley who recently expanded The Wedding Boutique from South Governors Avenue to 125-A W. Loockerman St. The shop has just been awarded Delaware Today’s 2019 Best of Delaware, Women’s Evening Attire, Downstate. Aaron Foreman, owner of Sold Out Sneakers at 305 W. Loockerman St., offers an inventory consisting of the latest fashions in sneakers and for those looking to relive their “glory days.” That Ish Boutique owner James Owens invites shoppers into “Dover’s fashion center” to find unique fashions and Islamic garb at 235 W. Loockerman St.

Dover’s forward-thinking leaders, including Mayor Robin Christiansen, council and staff from the City of Dover, work closely in strategizing, decision-making, and applying best practices to continue to move Dover toward its highest and best use. Downtown revitalization is comprehensive and incremental. We are excited to be coalescing efforts with our partners and encouraging this positive trend through Unlock the Block and other important retention and recruitment measures. And we will continue to do so strategically to proactively shape the downtown business mix, grow economic opportunity, and enjoy this trending toward an increasingly vibrant downtown experience.

Diane Laird is executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership and can be reached at (302) 678-2940 or Diane@DowntownDoverPartnership.com. 

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