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These Groups Are Helping Downtown Dover Thrive

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Downtown Dover is the place for Sam Chick and his family. There’s always something going on, says Chick, 32, who owns a shop on Loockerman Street and lives above it with his wife, Nicole.

They used to live more than five blocks away, but moved to be closer to everything. Today he can walk out his front door, and in a few steps check out an art show, buy a baguette made by a real Frenchman, grab a cup of coffee or some fine dining, and do some shopping for everything from smoking and vaping supplies, sold at his Puffster store, to jewelry, clothing, home accessories and high-end appliances.

“It attracts a large variety of people,” says Chick. Almost all the businesses have apartments over them, he says. “It’s a great place to live.”

New Things are always in motion, says Laird.//photo by
Joe del Tufo

Many groups work together to showcase downtown, including the Downtown Dover Partnership. One of its missions is to keep the regulars coming, while attracting a new younger crowd that might not have discovered Dover.

“We wanted family-friendly activities,” says Tonda Parks, volunteer chair of the marketing and promotion committee. “The [Wesley] college, the chamber, Downtown Destination Dover all work together for the common goal of lifting up downtown Dover and making more people enthusiastic.”

To catch that new crowd the partnership sponsors First Friday every month where food, music and shopping come together. Stores stay open later, host entertainment and serve drinks and treats. The Jolly Trolley carries visitors in a 15-minute loop around First Friday during the winter months.

“There’s a lot going on down here,” says Chick. At least twice a month there is some special event adding a little extra value to a stop downtown.

The calendar is busy throughout the year, starting with the Capital City Countdown on Dec. 31 that features music, food, drinks and a ball drop at midnight. The events move through the year from there with a St. Patrick’s Day festival and parade in March; the History, Heritage and Hops festival in May; outdoor movies and a farmer’s market in the summer; the Comic Con festival in August; OktDoverFest in September; trick-or-treating in October; tree lighting in November and caroling in December.

“There are always things in motion,” says Diane Laird, director of the partnership. Her next step is to make it even easier for people to find what they are looking for. She’s working to attract and train volunteers to work as downtown ambassadors—people on the street available to give directions or information.

“It’s really about engaging the community,” she says.

MILFORD REBOOTS

For years Milford was thought of as a bedroom community, a launching place for people to go to Dover or the beaches. Today that community is waking up to be a destination in its own right.

“I think the town made a major commitment to revitalize itself back in the 1980s with the greenway initiative,” says Dan Bond, a local investor who has bought and revitalized several downtown properties and is in the process of doing so with the former Lou’s Bootery.

He believes the initiative to create a walkable, shopable, livable space is paying off. For example, the Greenway Walking Trail winds along the Mispillion River past restaurants and art shops, through parks and leads to a nature preserve.

“There’s a lot going on on all fronts,” says former mayor Bryan Shupe, who helped create a plan for downtown development that included events, renovations and new building opportunities. Last year’s Ladybug Music Festival celebrating women in music brought in thousands of people as well as an award for 2018’s best new event from Southern Delaware Tourism.

Now with a new welcoming entrance off Del. 1, the hospital to the south, and the DE Turf Sports Complex north of the town, Milford is becoming a hot new place to stop and stay a while.

There is a vision to expand the park area, increase cultural and historical activities and extend the greenway all the way to the DuPont Nature Center at the Delaware Bay, says Bond. He’s confident that will happen.

“Milford has proven it has the ability to realize its vision,” he says.