Downtown Milford Inc. (DMI), a volunteer-driven organization that actively promotes the revitalization of Milford’s downtown district through events, awareness and resources, will celebrate their seventh year in 2015 as a Delaware Mainstreet program. Growing their volunteer force to include hundreds of Milford residents and increasing their impact on the local community, which has been recognized at the national level, DMI created economic opportunities for businesses downtown in 2014 while many fond memories were shared among residents and visitors.
In 2014 Downtown Milford Inc. kicked off their yearly events in March with the Annual Toasting the Town: St. Patrick’s Pub Crawl. A growing tradition for the Milford community, this year’s Pub Crawl featured six local businesses and five local restaurants and pubs as DMI continued their commitment to highlighting downtown Milford. As participants donned green shirts, they walked from business to business checking off squares that indicated where they had been. Merchants featured specials for event shirt wearers including discounted drinks and food specials and wine and beer tastings from local breweries and wineries.
“This event attracts all generations to visit downtown Milford and see what the town has to offer,” stated Sara Pletcher, event organizer. “Even if they don’t shop the night of the Crawl, people get a great sense of the community and hopefully will come back and visit again.”
One month later the 11th Annual Bug & Bud Festival was held, celebrating the significance of the ladybug in Delaware as it is tied to a second grade class in Milford that petitioned the Delaware State Legislature in 1973 to accept the ladybug as the official State Bug. The festival also serves as a celebration of Arbor Day and Milford’s designation as a USA Tree City. This year, DMI held their largest festival to date as thousands of event goers enjoyed over 120 food and merchant vendors, downtown businesses, activities and entertainment.
In May the tradition of the Riverwalk Farmers’ Market continued as year 15 of the program saw more success than ever. Since 2012, the Riverwalk Farmers Market has seen progressive momentum in the increased vendor sales and number of vendors and individuals in attendance. Between the 2012 and 2013 seasons the overall sales made by vendors increased from $85,000 to approximately $100,000. During the 2014 season the sales increased again, toping $115,000 at 15% growth. The market averaged 20 vendors weekly from May to September this year and attendance was up 20%. The Riverwalk Farmers Market has gained statewide attention as David Smith, Agricultural Marketing Specialist for the State of Delaware, wrote a letter in support of the organization’s efforts for this year’s application to the Great American Main Street Award.
“The Riverwalk Farmers Market in Downtown Milford, Delaware is one of the most successful and popular markets in the First State, and has been in existence for the benefit of the local community for many years now,” stated Smith. “The market brings energy and life to downtown Milford every Saturday morning…”
On Sunday, September 21 Downtown Milford Inc. hosted their second annual Eat In The Street event, bringing together residents to share local food, libations and entertainment. Carrying on a new tradition for its second year, event goers enjoyed a farm-to-table dinner, literally on Walnut Street as tables and chairs spanned across the Mispillion River.
This past holiday season, DMI embraced the excitement of the festive season as they hosted the Santa Claus House and 9th Annual Holiday Stroll. With sirens blasting, Santa arrived in town riding on a fire truck and escorted by police the Saturday after Thanksgiving and listened to the wishes of children every weekend until Christmas. One day after Santa arrived, historic downtown Milford was open for business as holiday carolers, horse drawn wagon rides and holiday sales celebrated an old-fashioned yuletide season. Children and adults enjoyed the Christmas Carol Band, the Delmarva Miniature Horse Club, a Christmas Tree Extravaganza and of course, a visit from Santa.
“All of our events have some of the same elements but contribute differently to the local community,” commented Lee Nelson, Director of Downtown Milford Inc. “They bring people downtown to shop and create a sense of community. As neighbors and friends meet it helps us to create a sense of place. This sense of place is what distinguishes us from other towns and attracts people and business to the city of Milford.”
In addition to hosting several community events throughout the year, DMI also hosts several programs that help to beautify the downtown area. The Milford In Bloom project utilizes volunteers to plant flowers and plants along the main streets as the Streetscapes program has helped the city to install lampposts, benches, trees and brick sidewalks. ART, Art on the Riverwal Tour, has added another dimension to the beatification process introducing public art outdoors. The project began two years ago as six sculptures depicting the classic yacht Augusta were designed and created by four local artists and displayed permanently along the Mispillion Riverwalk. The classic yacht Augusta that was built at the Vinyard Shipyard in Milford, links the town’s historical beginnings of shipbuilding to the modern attraction of the Riverwalk along the Mispillion River. By the end of next year, there will be a total of 18 ships on display for the public to enjoy as they walk or ride along the Riverwalk.
This year Downtown Milford Inc. has worked with business owners and the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO) to encourage and support expanding and new business in the historic downtown district. Patty Cakes, a new bakery that specializes in custom cakes, and Delaware Branding Company, a Tattoo Parlor and Business Design Marketing group, were selected by DEDO to participate in a business incubator program. In addition, downtown Milford has seen the ribbon cutting of Jarmany’s Closet, a Consignment Shop that focuses on plus-size women clothing; Mispillion Fitness, a health and wellness center; Salon M, a hair salon; and Sugar Bee Boutique, a fine chocolate shop. The downtown has also experienced the expansion of Live Cheap and Make Art, a gallery featuring the paintings of Rosemary Connelly and photographs of Bob Connelly; and Fur-Baby Boutique, a doggie daycare and grooming salon. Director of DMI, Lee Nelson, believes there are several factors for the recent growth in the downtown area.
“There are a few factors that attract entrepreneurs here,” said Nelson. “The geography of Milford, it is well placed to take advantage of other markets including to the north, Dover, and the south, the beach areas. Looking at economics, it is not as expensive to rent or buy commercial properties here in relation to surrounding areas. Also the pro-entrepreneurial spirit that has developed here, encouraging the start of new businesses and projects.”
In 2015 Nelson states that Downtown Milford Inc. will be looking to support and encourage more retail that compliments what businesses already exist downtown and several restaurant and food businesses. DMI will also play a larger role in promoting Small Business Saturday and other buy local campaigns. For events, DMI will host all of their annual events including the Annual Toasting the Town Pub Crawl, Bug & Bud Festival, Farmers’ Market, Eat In The Street, Santa House and Holiday Stroll and begin a new tradition with the first annual Brewfest, a bluegrass festival that highlights local craft beers from Milford and Delaware. As a volunteer-driven organization, Downtown Milford Inc. is always looking for volunteers that can help with events, programs and community outreach. To learn more about DMI, individuals can visit the Downtown Milford Inc. office at 207 S Walnut Street or contact them at 302-839-1180 or firstname.lastname@example.org.