Photo by Lindsay Weber
Newark’s Main Street is in for a much-needed makeover. The college town’s commercial corridor is notorious for its potholes, and is not ADA compliant. Areas of the road also flood frequently due to poor drainage. The $11.8 million improvement project, which began in April, plans to address these issues and more. The result should be a beautified Main Street with wider walkways, increased parking options and smoother traffic flow.
But that won’t happen until the summer of 2020. For now, the project is an inconvenience to Main Street businesses and patrons alike. Construction is currently underway at the east and west ends of Main Street. Parts of the sidewalks are closed, and traffic is reduced to one lane in these areas. As the project progresses, construction will shift towards the center of the road which will redirect traffic, and potentially disrupt more businesses.
Bing’s Bakery, a Newark institution in business since 1946, is located at 253 E. Main St., where major construction is currently underway. Back in 2013, the bakery was featured on an episode of “Buddy’s Bakery Rescue” hosted by celebrity baker Buddy Valastro. On the show, owner Carla Guzzi revealed that the business was struggling and their family was in debt as a result. The TV feature resulted in a sales boom for the family-owned bakery. But with major construction on their doorstep, business is strained once again.
“It has hurt us in our morning business,” says Carla Guzzi, owner of Bing’s. “That’s where we’re feeling a lot of our pain right now.”
Photos by Lindsay Weber
Fortunately for Bing’s, the construction picked up right around graduation season, so the Guzzis were able to make up for the loss in morning sales via a graduation cake boom. And while construction slogs on, the bakery hopes to make up for the loss in business by increasing delivery sales and selling outside of Main Street (for instance, they recently were successful in selling cupcakes at Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children).
Bing’s is not the only Main Street business getting creative in the face of possible dwindling customers. Caffé Gelato, a popular Italian restaurant on Main Street, launched two new virtual delivery-only restaurants—Habanero and Wood-Fired Wings—in April to prepare for the construction. Caffé Gelato, located centrally on Main Street (thus out of the way of construction for now), is bringing in $500 to $600 in delivery sales daily as a result.
Caffé Gelato owner Ryan German is optimistic about the construction project and its potential to revitalize Main Street. He is looking forward to having the first phase of the project done, so that people will get a sense of what Main Street will look like next summer. He points out that the road is only reduced to one-lane traffic in short segments, and that the most intrusive parts of the project are occurring at night to avoid disrupting as much as possible.
“Luckily, it’s been better than we anticipated. I think the City of Newark, the University of Delaware, DelDot, businesses on Main Street, and the community are all working really well together to make it positive,” German says.
Indeed, communication with city officials and DelDot has been vital for business owners along Main Street. Still, some aren’t sure how much the communication can alleviate the difficulties that come with the project.
“We’ve talked to [City Councilman Chris Hamilton] who was here for opening. We expressed our concerns, he told us about some of the things we can do, like we can contact the city of Newark and express how we feel,” says Kelly Strayline, owner of Frutta Bowls on Main Street. “But I don’t really know what that’s going to do.”
Frutta Bowls on Main Street opened about four months ago. With University of Delaware students gone for the summer and construction constraints, the trendy acai bowl joint saw low sales in the month of June. Strayline hopes the construction stays on schedule for the sake of both business and traffic.
“It’s a nightmare getting here,” Strayline says. “Our other partners come in at around 4 p.m. and it takes them so long to get down Academy Street and get down the street to the parking lot. It takes them double the amount of time.”
Photo by Lindsay Weber
Sadly, the worst case scenario for some of these businesses is permanent closure. The fear of closing for business looms over many retailers in the area, and as construction continues to put a strain on revenue, more will be impacted.
“There’s going to be some casualties,” says Robin Griffith, owner of Duck Donuts on Main Street. “People have their mortgages on the line for their homes in some cases, and there are plenty of smaller shops, so my general concern is the business owners who will end up losing greatly in the end.”
As construction drags on through the summer and into the next year, business owners are doing their best to work around the constraints. Many are posting advice on social media on how to avoid driving through Main Street while accessing their business. And vendors are imploring patrons to continue supporting Main Street businesses through a challenging time for them all.
“Even though there’s construction going on, everyone’s still open,” says Ethan Knettler, operations manager at Newark Natural Foods. “Still come out, still come and see us and we’ll do everything we can to make your shopping experience the best it can be.”