Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Princess Street closed a month longer than expected, businesses are taking a hit

Initially, the closure was expected to last about two weeks. Four weeks after that, businesses are still waiting.

Businesses on Princess Street have seen a sharp decrease in foot traffic over the last month and a half -- since Princess Street was closed to through traffic in early June. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)
Businesses on Princess Street have seen a sharp decrease in foot traffic over the last month and a half — since Princess Street was closed to through traffic in early June. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON—Six weeks after Princess Street was closed for emergency repairs, businesses are feeling the negative impact.

Princess Street was closed at the intersection with Second Street in early June. While performing exterior maintenance to the building at 201 Princess Street, contractors discovered severe damage to the building’s structure. Memory Lane Comics, which occupies the ground floor, was temporarily closed.

At the time, the city of Wilmington estimated that street closure would last two weeks, but it’s been three times that period of time and there is still no firm end date for construction. According to Wilmington Spokesperson Dylan Lee, “our staff cannot speculate on a timeline because the contractor is not under our control.”

In the meantime, Princess Street businesses have taken a financial hit, especially from the loss of tourist foot traffic.

Princess Street Businesses

Affected businesses include: Capricho, Memory Lane Comics, Bespoke Coffee, Port City Cheesesteak Company, Louie's Hot Dogs, Bloke Apparel and Supply, Art in Bloom Gallery, and Murphy's Barber Shop. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)
Affected businesses include: Capricho, Memory Lane Comics, Bespoke Coffee, Port City Cheesesteak Company, Louie’s Hot Dogs, Bloke Apparel and Supply, Art in Bloom Gallery, Murphy’s Barber Shop, and others. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)

The businesses on Princess Street are still open, including: Capricho, Memory Lane Comics, Bespoke Coffee, Port City Cheesesteak Company, Louie’s Hot Dogs, Bloke Apparel and Supply, Art in Bloom Gallery, Murphy’s Barber Shop, and others. And while the sidewalks are still open, many are finding fewer people walking by their stores.

Old Guerdon Lodge owner Marc Mereyde said the loss of business has been compounded by the sense of uncertainty.

“It has affected us tremendously – it has cut foot traffic down to almost nothing,” Mereyde said. “What is worse, no one seems to know how long this is going to last.”

Mereyde said the city had been supportive, but that local businesses were growing frustrated at the slow pace of construction.

“The city has been very helpful, they’ve been in touch a lot,” Mereyde said. “I do have to wonder, how could anyone let that building get to that point. And you do think people would be working to get it done, on evenings and weekends.”

Across the street, Louie’s Hot Dogs owner and operator Mary Anne Garner said her long-time customers have helped her hang on.

“Thank God for return customers,” Garner said. “I’m lucky that I’ve been in the business for 30 years. So the lawyers, the judges, Bill Saffo comes to eat, they all know I’m here and I’m still open.”

Tourist business, on the other hand, has dropped off significantly. Garner said the horse-drawn carriages that usually pass the store have traditionally been a steady referral source for tourist-business.

“They have stories for all the businesses, you know they tell people we’re Wilmington’s smallest restaurant. We’re six-and-a-half-feet across, we don’t sell a foot-long dog because you’d have to walk out of our store sideways. Stuff like that, and tourists hear it and say, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta go get a hot dog there,’” Garner said.

Garner said she wished she’d taken better precautions for an event like this but, like her neighbor Mereydee said she was frustrated that so many businesses were being hurt by an issue with one building.

“I wish I had loss-of-business coverage, you know, but it’s after the fact now,” Garner said. “You don’t expect it, but … the neglect to that building ended up hurting the whole block.”

Memory Lane co-owner Jake Motsinger said the store was actually doing better than expected, especially since the store’s main entrance has been blocked by construction.

“We’ve been very active on social media, posting like four or five times a day, letting people know – we’re open, just use the side door, and it’s been going well,” Motsinger said. “Still, we’re obviously hoping this is done soon.”

When will Princess Street reopen?

The city of Wilmington said it would add more signage along 3rd Street to alert drivers and pedestrians that businesses on Princess Street are still open. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)
The city of Wilmington said it would add more signage along Third Street to alert drivers and pedestrians that businesses on Princess Street are still open. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)

According to Motsinger, the building’s owner said the external repairs should be completed in a week, on July 27. But, given that it’s been six weeks since Princess Street was blocked off, and the unpredictable nature of construction timelines, Garner and Mereyde both said they weren’t holding their breath.

“That’s the last we’ve heard, is next Friday – July 27. But there’s been more than one delay, so who knows,” Garner said.

What businesses on Princess Street want most is for people to know that they are open.

“I tell people to park in the deck, it’s free for the first hour, we’re still here, we’re still open,” Garner said.

Lee said the city has placed “Businesses are Open” signs on each side of the fenced off construction area at Princess and Second Street, which are visible from East and West.

On Third Street, the main thoroughfare, signs simply say “streets closed to through traffic.”

Lee said the city would “put some additional signs on the barricades at Third Street,” to make it clear that the Princess Street businesses are open.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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