2015 in review: Wilmington sees small biz boom

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Freaker USA founder Zach Crain sports one of 127 varieties of socks the local company was able to launch this spring, thanks to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Photo courtesy Freaker USA.
Freaker USA founder Zach Crain sports one of 127 varieties of socks the local company was able to launch this spring, thanks to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Photo courtesy Freaker USA.

From a breakfast eatery at the beach to a downtown tiki bar, small business was booming this year in Wilmington.

So much so, in fact, that the Port City got the attention of national website NerdWallet, which named our area one of the top 10 places for independent entrepreneurs to open up shop, just below Boulder, Colorado.

Just a week into 2015, homegrown company Freaker USA, a purveyor of unique knitted beverage insulators, made a big announcement: It was getting into the sock business.

Owner Zach Crain kicked off a Kickstarter campaign for Freaker Feet on Jan. 1, with the hope of raising $250,000 for production of the socks, which he wanted to be completely designed, manufactured and packaged here in North Carolina.

At the wrap of the campaign in mid-February, Freaker had exceeded its goal by approximately $5,000, immediately getting to work on getting their 127 varieties of socks in stores locally and worldwide.

A lifetime of surfing led Greg Paul to open the Polynesian-themed Freaky Tiki Country Club in the fast-growing Brooklyn Arts District. Photo by Hilary Snow.
A lifetime of surfing led Greg Paul to open the Polynesian-themed Freaky Tiki Country Club in the fast-growing Brooklyn Arts District. Photo by Hilary Snow.

And it was Kickstarter that gave a boost to Amanda Jacobs, who was able to grow her Sea Love Sea Salt business from her dining room table to a farm on the outer edges of Burgaw, where funds from backers enabled her to purchase a greenhouse and other needed equipment to mass produce her popular line of gourmet salts and body scrubs.

Jacobs, whose products are now in 15 area restaurants and a handful of stores regionally, ended the year as a finalist for Martha Stewart’s American Made awards.

Right in Jacobs’ sandy backyard of Wrightsville, some other new businesses–with big names–popped up, notably the popular Charleston-area pub Poe’s Tavern and the Charlotte-based franchise Famous Toastery, which opened in December in the old Havana’s Restaurant location.

And after more than four decades in business, longtime beach landmark, Redix, expanded its outdoor clothing and gift shop to the Front Street landscape downtown.

While Wilmington saw growth in retail and restaurants citywide, downtown certainly became the hub as, anchored by the announcement that luxury apartments, a marina and two restaurants would be coming to the riverfront, small businesses flooded the area.

Nikki's recently renovated its downtown location includes a sprawling sushi bar and new menu items. Photo by Hilary Snow.
Nikki’s recently renovated its downtown location includes a sprawling sushi bar and new menu items. Photo by Hilary Snow.

Taking advantage of the burgeoning Brooklyn Arts District, Greg Paul, founder of Hot Wax Surf Shop, opened up his Polynesian-themed Freaky Tiki Country Club on North Fourth Street this fall.

Even established businesses like Nikki’s Fresh Gourmet and Sushi and Kilwin’s embraced the boom, expanding and renovating at their long-standing locations to better accommodate the growing number of customers.

Across town, economic growth had a touch of the eccentric, with out-of-the-box businesses opening their doors to thrill seekers. Modeled after the wildly popular “Call of Duty,” Battle House Laser Tag launched its gaming complex in November on the grounds of Wilmington International Airport.

It followed Cape Fear Escape Room, which challenges teams of players to put their heads together on a series of puzzles and brain teasers to solve mysteries and find their way back out. The business–unique to the region but fast becoming an international craze–opened in October.

And 2015 came to a close with a brand new joint, Moe’s Original BBQ, taking over the former Flip’s Bar-B-Que House, once again giving locals a much-loved location for smoked meats.

Battle House, a new combat-style laser tag facility, opened in November. Photo courtesy Battle House.
Battle House, a new combat-style laser tag facility, opened in November. Photo courtesy Battle House.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.