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Cape Fear Comeback: customers more important than beautification for downtown businesses

Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 10:10 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The Cape Fear Comeback is in full swing as customers are once again heading back to restaurants, business and shops across the area.

With summer on the horizon, and COVID quickly hitting the rearview, Lisa LaRue, one of the owners of Heart of Carolina, a gift shop in the Cotton Exchange in downtown Wilmington is excited for more customers.

“People are starting to come back out and about,” said LaRue. “We are a tourist destination. Being in a historic downtown, customers come here all the time.”

But LaRue and other business owners have new concerns over construction that’s set to start next year, impacting Front Street between Walnut and Chestnut Streets for up to six months.

“When you close down a major street of customers that would potentially be coming to our stores — we will not stay in business.”

The $3.5 million project was set to begin this October, but businesses voiced their concern that they could lose out on the all-important holiday shopping season.

So, the city put on the brakes and announced the project would begin in January 2022.

Wilmington City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark says the project will feature a new design for the street and sidewalks, with better lighting.

“I think what we are getting ready to do will position the city for the next 50 years and we’re doing it,” said Rivenbark. “It’s going to benefit everybody.”

But, at the same time, he agrees businesses need time to rebound from the damaging effects of the pandemic.

“The city will do everything we can to help them get their customers to their front door.”

Meanwhile, business owners will have to wait to see if they reap the benefits.

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