Setbacks, storm impacts still seen around downtown businesses

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) —  It has been three months since Florence and several setbacks have come to downtown businesses.

Since the storm, weather again has played a role impacting business. For instance the cancellation of the holiday parade. Riverfest and the Holiday tree lighting as well as the OverFlo concert have been the most notable influences to bring business downtown.

A handful of stores, bars and eateries sit vacant. Their status is different at each location.

Shops like Rollz, Indigo Sol, Farmin’ on Front and Waffle House remain closed up. That’s just naming a few. For Rollz, the new eatery has since moved to the Independence Mall food court with a hunger to return to Front Street.

Farmin’ on Front indefinitely closed as well as Waffle House. Port City Java’s recently updated the status of its downtown business.

“We love this location and being part of the downtown community,” said CEO Steve Schnitzler. “It took a while to work out construction details and it is not always easy to move as fast as we would like after a storm of this magnitude. However, we are working through construction now and plan to open again soon. We were down but not out!”

Wilmington Downtown Inc. president Ed Wolverton tells us water damage significantly impacted the building the coffee staple operates in.

There are stores like Indigo Sol that the owners are making an effort to return to. They expect to reopen the Front Street shop around Christmas. Right next to it, is Swahili Coast, a shop that had its window blown out and similar damage inside.

“During the hurricane the roof failed in this building and there are four stories above us and they all flooded,” said Caroline Fisher who co-owns the shop and serves as Creative Director.

This is the first week Fisher and her co-owner Tony Peele could reenter the storefront. They have several storefronts from the Cotton Exchange to Chandler’s Warf. They plan to reopen the Front Street location by Christmas.

For, Fisher, she says it’s too early to give up yet on the closed shops.

“I think in the coming months is when we’re going to see if people can still make a go of it,” Fisher said.

Wilmington Downtown Inc. tells us 90% of businesses are back in the downtown area.

“Things that are empty are being renovated right now,” said Wolverton with WDI. “Many of them are going to bounce back. We were very limited with what we had in a vacancy standpoint.”

Some stores, however, are hurt by how neighboring merchants stay closed. Joseph Sharp says neighboring businesses to his Chandler’s Warf store are on the fence with staying open.

“If those businesses are losing customers, then I am losing customers,” said Sharp.

Sharp’s tech repair store relies a lot on other downtown workers or locals needing his service. He says that foot traffic has plummeted, impacting his sales by 60 to 70%. He’s been in the business for more than a decade and remains optimistic.

Both Sharp and Fisher are in that group that remain downtown, perhaps stubbornly, but because they still see growth coming to the area.

“There is a sense of pride in being a retailer and a restaurateur in downtown Wilmington,” said Fisher.

Wolverton tells us the WDI is working on initiatives to boost the draw to downtown. Currently there is an ongoing storefront holiday display competition to entice more shoppers.

Categories: Local, New Hanover

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