Downtown Newark Partnership: Delaware
Minding its Business: The Downtown Newark Partnership builds a strong community along Main Street.
Kay Snelling of Gecko Fashions Boutique on Main Street
Photograph by Jared Castaldi
In April 2006, Kay Snelling purchased a consigner clothing and antiques shop on Main Street. However, she planned to change the store’s “whole dynamic,” she recalls. In May, she attended a meeting of the Downtown Newark Partnership, which was equally intent on change. Founded in 1998, DNP brought together the city, the university, businesses and residents to create a sense of community. “I wanted to know what’s going on,” she says. “I want to voice my opinions.”
Today, both Snelling and the DNP have achieved their vision. Snelling’s business, Gecko Fashions Boutique, specializes in unique jewelry and clothing, including three fair trade lines and cancer-awareness items, such as “Save the Ta-Tas” T-shirts.
And thanks in part to active merchants like Snelling, the DNP in 2011 received the Great American Main Street Award, given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. DNP has helped create both a strong community and a destination.
“We’ve really built a town that people drive 10 or 20 miles to visit,” says Mayor Vance A. Funk III, who takes it upon himself to pick up trash on weekends. “When you come here on a Saturday, you won’t believe the number of families with strollers going up and down Main Street.”
Neither the DNP nor the merchants are resting on their laurels. “We look at what is important to retailers, what is important to the university and what is important to the city—we all work together,” says Snelling, who is on the DNP board of directors.
Like Snelling, Julie Keppel of Brunswick Blue Hen Lanes in Newark Shopping Center has been an ardent supporter of the DNP. Keppel got involved in 2001, the year the DNP was designated a National Main Street Community.
“It was such a dynamic group of people that I decided to go to the next meeting,” she recalls. “By the third, I was helping out.”
At that time, some businesses were struggling, and there were vacancies. “We set about creating some special events that would occur over the course of the year,” Keppel says.
Consider Wine & Dine Downtown, the Food & Brew Fest and Newark Night. (This year, Newark Night becomes Newark Day and will be held June 2, from noon to 5 p.m.)
“We have activities for every month but February,” says Marilyn Minster, the board chairwoman since 2006.
A DNP gift card program has been “fantastic,” she says. Customers can use the plastic card at multiple locations, and they needn’t spend the whole amount at once. A program tracks the balance.
The program, which has pumped more than $60,000 into downtown businesses since its start, has been a holiday boon to retailers like Minster’s of Newark, which sells jewelry and offers repair services.
Parking remains an issue. Currently, there are four lots, one of which is metered. Since most of the lots are behind buildings, it’s easy for drivers on Main Street to pass them, especially since many have alley-like entrances. The city recently erected new directional signs and entrance banners. “Now we have big green parking banners—you can’t miss them. We’ve already gotten a great response,” says Marvin Howard, the city’s parking administrator.
DNP also has a validation program in municipal pay-to-park lots. Simply patronize a business with a validation sticker on its window. They’re easy to find. The number of participating businesses jumped from 46 in 2010 to more than 70. “Whenever we talk to customers, we tell them about the validation,” says Charlene Bertheaud, co-owner of Heart and Home. “We say, ‘Pull into the lot of your choice and shop to your heart’s content.’”
Like Snelling, many of Newark’s merchants have established roots.
“If I’m not on Main Street, I won’t be anywhere else,” she says.