There’s No Place Like LOMA

Film Brothers Co-op is a picture-perfect example of the spirit of Wilmington’s Lower Market Street.

The sidewalks of Wilmington’s creative business district along Lower Market Street vibrate with foot traffic, and the air resonates with music and savory scents spilling out of storefronts, especially on first Friday Art on the Town nights. It’s reliably lively on weekdays, too, in contrast to the silent street it was a few years ago, says Christian Winburn.

The transformation didn’t happen by accident, says Winburn, vice president of the urban redevelopment firm Preservation Initiatives, a group that worked with investors to revitalize LOMA. It’s the result of a deliberate plan to populate LOMA with creatives, artists and entrepreneurs who “understand that a community is more than bricks and mortar, that beautiful buildings are the stage we set to bring the actors—the innovative participants in revitalization.”

Film Brothers Co-op is the epitome of that spirit, says Mike Schwartz, owner of the Lofts at 2nd & LOMA building that houses the cooperative work-and-play space, and founder of the Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson dealerships. Every business in the mixed residential and retail building makes a contribution, Schwartz says. But Gordon DelGiorno is a standout.

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DelGiorno became a standout by negating the Hollywood filmmaker stereotype rather than conforming to it. Far from a prima donna or a ruthless climber, the Wilmington producer and event promoter is a passionate advocate for the hometown he loves and a workhorse for connecting people, says Ken Grant, director of sales and marketing at Analtech Inc. in Newark.

That kind of partner is valuable to have at the table, says Rich Neumann, the city of Wilmington’s communications director and local Fringe Festival co-founder and director.

“The film co-op could have been just another occupant, but it’s not,” Neumann says, adding that DelGiorno’s got a knack for seeing opportunities. For example, Neumann says, providing space for monthly Fringe Unhinged performances during the popular Art on the Town first Fridays raises the visibility of LOMA’s profile while it raises participation in the art loop and the grass roots Fringe.

That’s good for everyone, says Tina Betz, Wilmington Cultural Affairs and Fund Development director.

“People gravitate to places where others are having a good time,” Betz says. “Raising interest in LOMA raises interest in the entire downtown.”

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Film Brothers got its start more than a decade ago with “Franks and Wieners,” a script that Gordon and Greg DelGiorno wrote in fits and starts over two years. Today, Film Brothers has morphed into a company that excels at event promotion, independent films, sales, marketing and video production, and its roomy visual media workspace doubles as a hub for community events. 

Positioned between Wilmington’s Riverfront entertainment center and Rodney Square’s corporate district, LOMA is at the center of Wilmington’s rebirth. And Gordon DelGiorno has been in the middle of it all figuratively, too.

Take the Wilmington parking meter situation. Officials and business owners have successfully worked together to improve signage that once contained ambiguous messages that contributed to confusion, frustration and excessive fines. It’s a great example of what happens when stakeholders work together, he says. But when the issue was brewing back in October 2011, no one could be certain it would turn out so well.

Grant, DelGiorno and others brought the issue to the fore with some tongue-in-cheek videos that got a lot of play. DelGiorno also asked his 5,000 Facebook friends about their parking tickets, and the conversation “lit up like you wouldn’t believe,” says DelGiorno. While it may have seemed inflammatory to some, it was productive to get people talking out in the open.

“It’s like this: Most people won’t tell you your hamburger stank, they just won’t come to your restaurant anymore,” he says. “But they will whisper it to all their friends, and then they won’t come in either.”

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Ultimately, raising awareness of the parking issue was the right thing to do for the city, says Grant, even though it was personally risky for DelGiorno.

“I live in Newark so I didn’t have a lot of skin in the game,” Grant says. “For Gordon, this was everything. He lives in the city. His business is in the city. He knew his reputation was on the line.”

That kind of action for positive change is typical for DelGiorno, says Carrie Gray, managing director of Wilmington Renaissance Corporation, which exists to increase downtown’s economy, activity and reputation.

“He’s not going to let people sit on the sidelines for long,” Gray says. “Everyone should take that kind of personal investment in the city.”

DelGiorno says he’s nothing special, just a guy who works hard.

He’s the kind of guy who cooks up a dozen zany business ideas before lunch, says his brother, Greg DelGiorno. More telling: He’ll set up a four-course Greek dinner event for Steve’s Deli across the street and pack the dining area with 45 guests, just because the shop owners mention that they enjoy cooking their native food.

To DelGiorno, it’s a no-brainer. “They’ve been on Market Street for a long time, they’re still passionate about cooking, and they’ve got a lot of fight left. That’s the kind of thing that this block needs.”

He’s the kind of guy you can count on in a pinch, Betz says. “If he says he’ll sell out Theatre N’s 221 seats, he will.”

To DelGiorno, it’s no sweat. “It gets me juiced to get a few hundred people into Wilmington to experience unique stuff like our Festival of Shorts.”

The kind who’s got more than 8,000 contacts. More telling: He pretty much knows them all, and regularly dials them up one by one to make personal invitations to events he promotes.

To DelGiorno, it’s just common sense. “Everyone wants a quick, easy way, but there is none. The ones who show up are the ones who get the worm,” he says. “I get on the phone. I write people. I don’t use an intern or HootSuite to automate social media. I do it in myself in real time.”

Comparing DelGiorno’s tenacious team spirit to the former Philadelphia Eagles safety and renowned locker room leader Brian Dawkins, Schwartz says that the Lofts of 2nd & LOMA – and all of Wilmington – got more than it bargained for when DelGiorno became one of his first tenants in the now filled-to-capacity 86-residential, 26-business units mixed-use building.

If people think Wilmington has gotten a lot of mileage out of DelGiorno, he says he’s been able to contribute because they’ve helped him.

“This place gives Film Brothers a face, and they cut me a sweet deal here early on to help revitalize LOMA,” DelGiorno says. “So I try to over-deliver.”

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