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Wilmington small business advocate Will Minster dies at 64

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Will Minster 2022 Small Business Advocate of the Year from New Castle County Chamber of Commerce President Bob Chadwick

Will Minster, right, seen accepting the 2022 Small Business Advocate of the Year from New Castle County Chamber of Commerce President Bob Chadwick, passed away April 13 at age 64. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NCCCC

WILMINGTON – Will Minster, a fourth-generation small business owner and later a steadfast proponent of the revitalization of Wilmington’s downtown, died April 13. He was 64.

A cause of death was not publicly shared, but Minster has lived with Von Hippel-Lindau disease, a tumor-causing genetic disorder, and has fought cancer recently as well.

The son of Marilyn Minster, the owner of family-run Minster’s Jewelers in Newark Shopping Center and longtime small business advocate in her own right, Will Minster learned early on the value that mom-and-pop shops can bring to revitalizing a local economy.

He would take those lessons to heart, both in running the family business for decades and later serving in several roles to help advance the development of others. He spent time leading revitalization efforts in Wilmington through Downtown Visions and most recently West End Neighborhood House. For that work, the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce named Minster its 2022 Small Business Advocate of the Year.

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki called Minster “a champion for our city and its people.”

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said the county “lost a champion for our small business community today and a passionate advocate for Wilmington.”

“A pillar of Wilmington and a champion for every entrepreneurial endeavor” was how Sen. Chris Coons, a former New Castle County executive, recalled Minster.

For some of Minster’s closest colleagues and friends, however, his passing seemed to dim one of Wilmington’s brightest lights in the city.

“His generosity of time and his love for the city was contagious,” said Renata Kowalczyk, executive director of the Wilmington Alliance, a nonprofit that drives economic opportunity and social vitality in the city.

She recalled attending a Rotary meeting soon after arriving here for a job nearly a decade ago and meeting Minster, who immediately greeted the newcomer and sought to put her at ease. They bonded over a love of live music and would become fast friends.

“We would have new associates coming to work in Wilmington, and I thought about how quickly I fell in love in the city because Will showed me the city and I wanted to do the same for others. So, hopefully I’m making him proud,” Kowalczyk said.

Raised above the family’s original jewelry store in Elkton, Md., Minster learned how to run the business, and would later run its Market Street location for some 25 years. He also saw the influence that a connected small business owner could have on their community through his mother, who was an influential leader in downtown Newark.

Kowalczyk recalled visiting Elkton with Minster for an event a few years ago, where he pointed out his childhood home above the old family store.

“He said to me, ‘This is where I learned everything about business. So, when you think that I’m a hardcore crazy about small business it’s because I have it in my DNA. And I grew up knowing that that’s what builds our economy: small businesses,’” she said.

In 2007, he became a founding member of economic development and public safety nonprofit Downtown Visions, and became its Main Street program manager five years later. He helped oversee the renovation of 50 façades on Market Street, awarded more than 60 grants to small businesses, assisted the growth of events like the Ladybug Music Festival, and more.

Michael Maggitti, executive director of Downtown Visions who worked with Minster for years, said that his presence as a former small business owner was invaluable to the success of the nonprofit, lending it a credibility with shop owners that otherwise would not have existed.

Minster led the Be Here program that encouraged small business owners to build an online presence before many of them did, helping visitors and locals to identify their offerings, Maggitti said. He also led the charge in convincing shop owners to take down the metal gates that secured their stores, many of which had been in place since the riots of the 1960s. They followed in part because he had done the same to his store first.

“What a difference it makes when you’re on Market Street or King Street or any of the downtown streets now. His legacy will live on that hill for all our lifetimes because the changes he made are so visually powerful,” Maggitti said.

Bob Chadwick, president of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce who knew Minster for many years, said helping small business owners was more than just a job for his friend.

“Will took a personal interest in all the entrepreneurs that were downtown, the businesspeople who were trying to make their business work. It was an avocation. It was his passion. And I think that that made a huge difference,” he said.

Minster was predeceased by his wife, Kelly, who died after a 2017 car accident.

A visitation will be held Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m. to noon at Strano & Feeley Family Funeral Home, 635 Churchmans Road in Newark, followed by a service in celebration of his life at noon. Burial will be private. For directions or to send an online condolence visit www.stranofeeley.com.

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