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Cari Woolf opened Moxie Boutique in Newark, in part to cater to the college crowd. Photograph by Brad GlazierWhen Cari Woolf decided to open Moxie Boutique, a funky, high-end women’s clothing shop, she looked at locations in Greenville and Wilmington. But she chose downtown Newark.

“I wanted to appeal to college students—that’s the fun stuff,” she says of her cutting-edge clothing. “We’ve become popular with the sorority girls.”

Moxie Boutique (48 E. Main St., 456-1300, moxiede.com) carries such lines as BCBGeneration, Max and Cleo, M M Couture by Miss Me and Charlie Jade.

Moxie Boutique is in good company. At a time when vacant storefronts are common sights, space is still a premium in Newark, whose downtown section includes busy Main Street and Elkton Road.

“Downtown Newark boasts one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country at 3.77 percent compared to the national average of 8.2 percent,” says Roy H. Lopata, planning and development director for the city of Newark and chairman of the Downtown Newark Partnership economic enhancement committee. “Considering the local impact of the Great Recession, our downtown vacancy rate is quite remarkable.”

Like Woolf, some businesses benefit from university students, staff and faculty. Most also attract residents from the surrounding neighborhoods and fellow businesspeople. The downtown district’s unique shops and restaurants have also made Newark a destination for regional folks seeking an afternoon or day excursion.

The city’s location—just off I-95 and near Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey—is a major draw for businesses opening second locations. Take Claymont Steak Shop, for instance. A fixture for 45 years in North Wilmington, Claymont Steak is a mecca for cheesesteak aficionados. “They travel from Newark, Bear and Dover,” says owner Demi Kollias, whose uncle started the business.

To cut traveling time and attract new customers, Claymont Steak Shop in January 2010 opened a Newark location (57 Elkton Road, 453-9500, claymontsteakshop.com). The 4,000-square-foot restaurant, situated near Amstel Avenue, benefits from its proximity to Main Street. At the same time, the site offers less traffic so delivery drivers can speed away to customer locations and customers can dash in for takeout.

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Don’t let any lines deter you. “We’ve proven to customers that we can handle high volume,” Kollias says. “We can give good customer service and the volume won’t affect the quality of the food. So far so good!”

Delaware Running Company (129 E. Main St., 533-5034, delawarerunning.com) also chose Newark for its second location. “In Wilmington, we took care of a lot of families from Maryland and southern Pennsylvania,” says owner Michael Monagle. “We wanted a location that was more accessible to them, and Main Street has been reinventing itself. There’s also a good running community in Newark.”

Catherine Rooney’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, whose original location is in Trolley Square in Wilmington, is another business that has discovered the second time is a charm on Main Street. The popular restaurant (102 E. Main St., Newark, 369-7330, catherinerooneys.com) opened in September 2010.

“I thought the concept of an Irish pub and what it’s all about—the vibe and the sense of community—would work perfectly on Main Street,” says Joe McCoy, who owns the restaurant with wife Gerry. He was also attracted by the building, which is more than 100 years old. “It’s a perfect match.”

Kildare’s was recently joined on Main Street by another Irish pub, Catherine Rooney’s.Combined with Kildare’s (45 E. Main St., 224-9330, kildarespub.com), Catherine Rooney’s makes Guinness-lovers very happy indeed. “Both have a good decor and good atmosphere,” McCoy says of the Irish-styled eateries.

Delaware-based businesses clearly see the advantage of locating to a college town with regional appeal. Increasingly, so do businesses from out of state. In August 2010, Groucho’s Deli (170 E. Main St., 533-6307, grouchos.com) opened the northernmost location in its Columbia, S.C.-based chain.

The restaurant—whose motto is “Helping Hangovers Since 1941”—is known for its “soft subs,” made so customers can squish the pillowy roll together and plop the tip into a specialty sauces. The signature STP Dipper, made with roast beef, turkey, melted Swiss and bacon, is designed to go with Formula 45, a sort of Russian dressing-meets-Thousand Island with a little dill thrown in.

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Although the sandwich is not the familiar Philly-style sub, it’s catching on, says Pat Hart, general manager. The spacious windows, which provide a view of the dining room, have helped pique interest, he says. There are other ways to get in on the action. Like many restaurants, Groucho’s offers outdoor seating.

From fine dining—Caffé Gelato (90 E. Main St., 738-5811, caffegelato.net) and Stone Balloon Winehouse (115 E. Main St., 266-8111, stoneballoonwh.com)—to the fun and whimsical—the recently opened Main Street Sliders (133 E. Main St., 738-4664, mainstreetsliders.com) and Yogo Berry Frozen Yogurt (129 E. Main St., 737-8140, yummyogo.com)—Newark has your appetite covered.

When you’ve satiated your thirst and hunger to the point of extra pounds, visit MainStream Nutrition (163 E. Main St., 444-4974, MainStreamNutrition.com), which opened in August 2010. A private nutrition club in Trader’s Alley, MainStream offers 109 different smoothie flavors, protein bars and energy drinks that “are not bad for you,” owner Stephen Fangman says. MainStream also sells skin care products and supplements.

Fangman, who dropped 20 pounds in five weeks using the products, chose Newark because of its preponderance of fitness buffs and athletes—as well as to counter the potential effects of the many quick-casual restaurants.

“The attitude down here is wonderful,” he says of the business community. “My neighbors are wonderful and the landlord is wonderful. I’m thrilled to death to be here.”

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