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Business

Downtown Dover businesses work to weather pandemic

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Milton Pratt
/
Delaware Public Media

Efforts to sustain downtown Dover's growth continue despite the economic blow dealt by the covid-19 pandemic.

Delaware Public Media’s Delaware Community Foundation Journalism intern Kayla Williams visited the downtown area to see how it's faring.

The Downtown Dover Partnership is the primary force working to build the downtown district, focusing on bringing businesses in and keeping them there. 

“The overall mission at Downtown Dover is to strive to improve the quality for our residents, visitors and business here. our main collaborating factor that we work on is economic development.” said Tina Bradbury, economic development & operations manager at the Downtown Dover partnership.

Bradbury says that efforts include looking at data to discover trends showing what businesses draw people in. 

“We’re one a professional survey that looks at the market analysis of what people are spending their money on, who’s coming into the area? That's a more professional approach to it. And then we've just done a simple poll with email and a facebook poll.” said Bradbury.

With that information in hand, downtown Dover not only seeks to attract and retain businesses, but also works to promote business on loockerman street and nearby in several ways. It’s developed discount programs and assists the central Delaware Chamber of Commerce to promote grand openings. 

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That OG Ish offers a variety of clothing and footwear at its West Loockerman St.location in Dover

When the pandemic hit, Bradbury says Downtown Dover partnership shifted to helping businesses stay afloat.  In addition to helping connect them with the various state and federal relief available, they also sought to create their own relief efforts,helping businesses like That OG Ish owned by James Owens.  

“Over the pandemic, we did a grant program," saidf Bradbury. "We also did a live auction to try to promote their stuff. James, he gave gift certificates and we put them into the auction. We paid each merchant like James and the others for the actual gift certificates and they also got grant money on top of that.”

The businesses themselves also came up with ways to keep their doors open. The House of Coffi owner Kristin Stone-Sifer shares how she got creative to deal with the pandemic's impact on her business.  

“It affected us greatly. We went down to almost no customers in a day," said Stone-Sifter. "Then we sort of thought outside of the box. And started making deliveries to the local hospital and to the grocery stores. And to all the workers who I considered front lines. Even people who were truck driving. If there was someone's parent who was a truck driver, we would actually do a delivery to that person's house.”

And James Owens at That OG ish says their efforts mostly paid off. 

“A lot of the bigger stores closed down. So, it was almost in my favor that I offered curbside. It kinda hurt me in the long run, but at the time it forced people to look more local and realize what different things they have local.” said Owens.

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Credit Kayla Williams / Delaware Public Media
House of Coffi is among the restaurants and cafes that have emerged in Downtown Dover.

 

Stone-Siffer agrees people came together to help downtown businesses during the pandemic.

“We got a lot of donations through the community, so we were really embraced and supported by the community at that time. So we were able to keep our head above the water. So we are very grateful for that.” said Stone-Sifer.

And James adds that he tries to show the community the same support it shows him.

“I regularly do clothing drives. I have friends that make platters, I’ll go and buy all their platters and just come out here and hand them out just on the quiet but i know people are hungry. If it gets too hot, I'll go buy a case of water and give it out. Like it’s just certain things you just gotta do. They allow me to make money here so I feel obligated to help out when I can.” said Owens.

Tina Hudson-Beamer, who owns Tina’s Timeless Threads, sees a community coming together despite the pandemic setback.

“We pretty much all know each other throughout the community. We do First Fridays that is something they sponsor the Downtown Dover Partnership. So that’s getting a lot of the business together as far as inviting customers to the store. So yeah, it’s a pretty good community down here.” said Hudson-Beamer.    

And Stone-Siffer believes it's a community that has room to grow as both businesses and residents look for something unique.

“You don't want to be in a store that just has four square walls. You’re looking for character. You’re looking for history. You’re looking for that feel, that sort of cultural diversity feeling. That’s what you like. So when people come down here that’s what they're looking for. And they're looking for something different.” said Stone-Siffer. 

This article was produced with support of a grant from the Delaware Community Foundation. For more information, visit delcf.org/journalism.