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'Closed for Winter' becoming a common sight in downtown Wilmington

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- More and more "closed" signs have been popping up in windows along front street in downtown Wilmington.

That's leaving some wondering if they are actually signs of a lagging downtown economy.

"Having these independent business owners is a challenge for every downtown,” said Wilmington Downtown, Inc. Director John Hinnant. “But it's the nature of the beast. We don't have the authority to mandate their hours of operation."

A sign in the window of The Eat Spot on Front St. reads "We have taken some time off.”

Down the street, a "closed for the winter" sign is in the door at Rita’s Italian Ice.

It's the kind of thing you might expect at the beach, but probably not in the Port City's central business district.

"Downtown, I think, is very touristy as well,” said Rita’s Italian Ice owner James Branch. “When the tourists are here, it does well. When they're not, it's not worth being open," said Branch.

At the same time, some restaurants are using the slower winter months to close for renovations.
Reel Café will be closed the entire month of January to make some changes.
Despite the down time, Hinnant says he sees some promising things happening downtown.

“In our building, when we moved in, there were no tenants on the upper floors. Today, this building is over 75 percent occupied," said Hinnant.

Hinnant says plans for apartment buildings and hotels, like the one being built at 2nd and Grace, are encouraging signs for the downtown economy.

Branch says he wants his shop to be a year-round fixture, and he's getting creative to do it.

“We’re rolling out more Italian hot foods, such as stromboli, calzones. Hopefully, by shortly into the first quarter, we'll be getting those ready and out to the stores," said Branch.

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