When Minster’s of Newark opened in 1955, the jewelry store was one of the first three retailers to sign a lease with the Newark Shopping Center. “The shopping center became the destination,” says store owner Marilyn Minster. “We had everything.”
Back then, there were only a few retailers on Main Street. No longer. Today, the entire downtown district is a shopping mecca. “Main Street has really blossomed,” says Marilyn Dickey, owner of Grassroots Handcrafts, which is celebrating its 35th year in Newark. “Up and down the street, it’s really changed a lot.”
And the Downtown Newark Partnership is glad. “We are constantly looking for independent, interesting retail to complement our mix,” says Maureen Feeney Roser, administrator of the DNP and assistant planning director for the city of Newark.
Shoppers need only take a stroll down Main Street to see that the DNP is doing a good job. From fashions to gems to comic books to card games, Newark has it covered.
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“You can find a lot of things in Newark that you can’t find anywhere else,” says Doug Rainey, editor of the Newark Post and the Delaware Business Ledger, both headquartered on Main Street. “A lot of that is because businesses have hung in there and survived the trends.”
And they’ve helped create new trends. Consider Days of Knights, which opened in 1982 in a small out-of-the-way space in the Newark Mini Mall. “Our idea was to service the needs of science fiction and fantasy fans,” says owner John Corradin.
The concept is still the same, but the way the fans are meeting those needs has changed. Collectible card games are huge, says Corradin, who after expanding in the mall—now Rainbow Books, Music & Movies—moved to the current Main Street location. Board games have experienced a resurgence in popularity. Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne lead the sales.
Another oldie but goodie is Blue Hen Comics, which opened in 1981. Longtime employee Joe Murray in 2001 bought the store, which sells comic books and pop culture items.
When it comes to jewelry, Newark is a treasure chest. Minster’s, for instance, features fine jewelry, diamond and colored stones, along with the Marilyn Minster Designs signature collection. The shop also offers repair services.
Grassroots, meanwhile, sells jewelry and artisans’ wares that are funky, fun and unusual. Bloom, a specialty boutique store that opened in 2004, takes its inspiration from an artist’s studio, where eclectic creations are always in progress. At Gecko Fashions, artwork and jewelry share space with women’s fashions, lingerie and jewelry.
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Perhaps owing to the student population, shop owners often let their imaginations run wild. Flip Flop Shops, which opened in November 2009, offers the latest styles of flip-flops and sandals from the hottest brands. Owner Camille Downes originally planned to open the shop in Galveston, Texas, where she wanted to retire, but Hurricane Ike convinced her to look elsewhere.
Newark’s student population attracted her because students will wear flip-flops all year long. Nevertheless, she plans to add Uggs boots for those who like cozy toes.
Downtown Newark also offers businesses that can handle routine needs such as copying, financial services, medications, shoe repair and auto services. Hardcastle’s Newark offers framing and art. The business plans to move from the Newark Shopping Center to a larger Main Street space.
Though most retail and service businesses are privately owned, Newark’s advantages have attracted the notice of well-known chains. There are plans for a Barnes & Noble bookstore on Main Street that would sell the usual fare, as well as textbooks for University of Delaware students.
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Yet Newark is in no danger of losing its small-town individualism. “It does have a different flavor,” says Murray. He credits the residents and the officials. “Mayor Vance Funk was literally picking up trash before a festival,” he recalls. “It’s like having the mayor of Mayberry.”
Murray says Newark is a destination in part because it is, well, Newark. “Other than New Castle, a lot of other places are in Wilmington,” says Murray. And Wilmington covers a broad territory. Say your location is on Main Street in Newark and folks instantly get the picture.
Does Dickey plan to move Grassroots, which has several locations? “Oh, no,” she says. “We call this location the mother ship.” And the mother ship is staying docked on Main Street for some time to come.