When Archie Campbell was looking for a place to live in Delaware, he looked just about everywhere. The beach, the cities, and then, just by chance, his real estate agent took him to Milford.
It just felt right, says Campbell, who 10 years later is the mayor and couldn’t be prouder of his city.
Like so many other people looking for a slower pace, a higher quality of life and lower cost of living, Campbell discovered Kent County, where cities and towns like Milford, Smyrna and Dover are places to be and be from.
Smyrna is hometown to Alexandra Wallace, 26, who says she still appreciates the quaint feel where everyone knows everyone. Even as the town grows with new businesses, restaurants and lots of new housing, Wallace says she thinks it will always have “that historical, quaint home-town feel.”
Between local festivals and the growing food scene that features spirits purveyors like Blue Earl Brewing Company and the Painted Stave Distillery, Smyrna is a place people are really noticing and making home. It’s far enough away from the big city to be quiet, but close enough to get to anything, including a job in Wilmington or Philadelphia, says Phil McGinnis, of McGinnis Commercial Realty in Dover.
“It’s hard to find little towns like [Smyrna] anymore that aren’t overflowing with franchised restaurants and big box stores,” Wallace says. She likes to grab a meal in town from one of the local restaurants like Brick Works Brewing and Eats or The Lemon Leaf Cafe. “The nonfranchise restaurants are always a treat,” she said.
Ron Sayers agrees that Smyrna is special. He’s lived there since he was five when his father opened Sayers Jewelers in 1950. Sayers’ father chose Smyrna because the town didn’t have a watch repairman, his specialty. Almost 70-years later Sayers is a destination. They’ve sold and made jewelry for people in every state, Caribbean islands, and even a few European countries. Sayers turned down several offers to open additional branches of the store at the beach and in Dover. Smyrna is just perfect for them.
Like Wallace and Sayers, Kristin Stonesifer understands the importance of home. She grew up in the Dover area but left for years to follow a high-paying corporate job. She says she finally just gave it up to return. She didn’t like feeling away from her home base.
Today, she’s the owner of House of Coffi on Loockerman Street in Dover. Stonesifer renovated a dilapidated building downtown to create her trendy cafe.
“Dover has good bones,” she says when asked to describe the city. The brick buildings, historic center and cobblestone streets all add up to it being unique, beautiful, historical and quaint, she said.
Lori Llewellyn agrees. Llewellyn, the owner of the contemporary fashion shop My Roots on Loockerman Street says the space is perfect. Everyone works together downtown, she says. She and her husband both volunteer with the nonprofit Destination Downtown Dover and the Downtown Dover committee to help organize festivals and others—like Dover’s First Fridays that feature music and entertainment with shops running specials from 5 to 7 p.m. the first Friday of every month.
“Everything is moving forward, the momentum is really exciting to watch,” Llewellyn says.
Back in Milford, it’s all about eating, drinking and buying art. Milford is one of 18 Eat. Drink. Buy Art. communities on the Delmarva Peninsula. With 19 restaurants and taverns in the city, there are plenty of places to enjoy a meal and a cocktail, then enjoy the art of the town. Galleries such as Gallery 37 and the Mispillion Art League on Walnut Street are full of original work for sale. The river walk features small boat sculptures all decorated by various local artists and groups. It winds through town past murals and scenic beauty. On the third Thursday of every month, downtown is filled with special events, music and shopping deals.
“The sense of community you get from Milford is unparalleled,” says Stephanie Tatman, owner of the coffee and treat shop Dolce. Walking through Milford is like stepping back in time, with the safe and fun atmosphere the city provides for adults and families with young children, she says. Her company takes part in the local festivals and Third Thursdays.
Campbell, Milford’s mayor, says he can’t wait to watch a film in the new nine-auditorium movie theater under construction, or eat in the new Italian restaurant, Benvenuto, being built downtown.
“Milford’s growing. It’s going to be the place to be,” he says.
Published as “Welcome Home” in Delaware Today‘s 2020 Kent County Guide.