As the pandemic forces some spots to close downtown, other businesses see opportunity

With 17 new businesses opening and 10 closures, the balance is still positive

As the pandemic forces some spots to close downtown, other businesses see opportunity
Mayor Bill Saffo and other dignitaries celebrate the opening of Nutty Buddies with a ribbon cutting for its owners Zach Harmon and Allen Carpenter (Source: WDI)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - More restaurants and bars are succumbing to the economic challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic; however, loss for some means opportunity for others.

Since March 2020 when the pandemic struck North Carolina, 17 new businesses have opened in downtown Wilmington including six boutiques, four eateries, three galleries, a tattoo shop, a fitness studio, a breakout room and a tech start-up.

According to Wilmington Downtown Incorporated’s board chair Dane Scalise, the community’s entrepreneurial spirit is thriving. “I am blown away by the hope and enthusiasm of these business owners and I pray that we will all do what they need most and visit them right away,” he said.

Zach Harman and Allen Carpenter, co-owners of Rooster & The Crow, a southern food restaurant in Chandler’s Wharf, didn’t plan to expand so quickly, but after successfully weathering the storm of opening the restaurant 18 months ago, they have discovered one of the best kept secrets of downtown...people look out for each other. So, not only did they open an events space called “The Nest”, they recently opened up Nutty Buddies Ice Cream & Sandwich Shoppe in the former “The Scoop” space in The Cotton Exchange on North Front Street.

“We see the potential with the future development at the north end of downtown, especially with the new hotels and living spaces where people are putting down roots," said Harman. "The opportunity came when The Scoop closed and we thought it was a good match.”

With limits on capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, restaurants are struggling to make ends meet; at the same time, many bars have not been allowed to welcome customers into their establishments since March, when North Carolina’s Phase 1 forced them to shut down. At the time, many thought the closures would be temporary. However, the state did not enter Phase 3 of reopening until Oct. 2. Under this phase, bars are only allowed to serve customers if they have outdoor seating and only at 30-percent capacity.

Although, the federal government and local leaders at the City and County have made huge efforts to assist businesses during this downturn, “What businesses across our state really need is normalization of their operations,” said Scalise.

Until this week, only seven downtown businesses have closed completely; two more consolidated two businesses into a single location. Over the past few days, three downtown Wilmington establishments have announced plans to close, bringing the total number of closures to 10.

According to a post on Facebook from the owners of The Foxes Boxes, the restaurant will close its doors on Oct. 31.

The restaurant, at 622 N 4th St., provided a space for countless community conversations on issues facing Wilmington and world. Owners Randy and Rachel Fox started a workforce development program out of the restaurant and the two had a commitment to social justice causes even before the protests over issues of inequality.

“We have been changed by this space and the people it has brought into our lives,” the businesses owners wrote on Facebook. “We will feel such a void when we lock the doors for the last time.”

After many tears and honest conversations, Randy and I have made the difficult and emotional decision to close both The...

Posted by The Foxes Boxes on Friday, October 9, 2020

This follows the announcement earlier this week from Tails Piano Bar, located at 115 S. Front St., which announced it could no longer survive.

“It is with a VERY heavy heart, that we announce the closing of TAILS Piano Bar,” the post stated. “We hung in there as long as we could financially, but sadly, the covid shutdown simply lasted too long.”

It is with a VERY heavy heart, that we announce the closing of TAILS Piano Bar. We hung in there as long as we could...

Posted by Tails Piano Bar on Wednesday, October 7, 2020

TAILS opened about two years ago and found a following from Wilmington’s theater and arts community.

After 22 years in Wilmington, Dock Street Oyster Bar also announced this weekend will be its last.

It is with profound sadness that after almost 22 years and 1.3 million dollars in rent that our Landlord Charles Samos...

Posted by Dock Street Oyster Bar on Friday, October 9, 2020

Scalise said he is devastated by the recent closures. “We will get through this together and be #ilmstronger than ever before,” he said.

In September, the National Restaurant Industry published a report that found nearly 1 in 6 restaurants (representing nearly 100,000 restaurants) closed either permanently or long-term and the industry was on track to lose $240 billion in sales by the end of the year.

The survey also found that 40-percent of operators thought it was unlikely their restaurant would be in business in another six months without additional relief packages from the federal government.

It’s unclear if that will happen before the November 3 election.

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