Small businesses speak to Senator Carper

Terry RogersBusiness, Government, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Senator Carper stands with Chris Fitzgerald and his nephew at Park Place

As part of his statewide tour of Delaware towns during his last year in office, Senator Tom Carper spent a few hours in downtown Milford on Tuesday, March 26. Despite road construction throughout town, Senator Carper walked through downtown, visiting fondue, Studio B and Park Place. Starting at fondue, Senator Carper chatted with owner, Zack King.

“The community in Milford is very supportive,” King said. “The community wants to see downtown come back to life. It takes developers and people who are going to put money into these buildings. My wife and I can only open so many businesses, we are maxed out at this point. But we put in tenants in this building and the one we own down the street that are all retail.”

The King’s own Penny Square, the first JC Penney building in Milford and the last in the United States as well as the former Derrickson Building at the other end of Walnut Street. Senator Carper asked what retail they had put into the town and King responded a café and small venue, candy store, photographer and others.

“We need to know how we can help you at the state and federal level,” Senator Carper said. “What do you need from us or the state to help your businesses grow and thrive.”

Studio B owners Ben and Brianna Westover with Senator Carper

King stated that expansion of the DDD program would be beneficial in Milford, not necessarily for his businesses, but to encourage investment in the downtown area. He also applauded the City of Milford for their support.

“The council, the city staff, Mayor everyone is super helpful. They have wanted downtown to be brought back to it’s former glory. Anytime I need anything from building permits, inspections to whatever they’re always there for us,” King said. “The city has the DDD program, and it is phenomenal. We used that for this building and the building down the street. Milford gives us abatements on building permits. You might have some city and county and Sussex County both is a matching game. So, I mean it all helps and it makes downtown a little more attractive from a financial standpoint and I think we personally would have still done it, but every time we get a check back or get a tax credit or whatever. It just goes right back into our businesses.”

Housing for staff is another issue that faces King in his businesses. He felt that expansion of the DDD would also address some of the affordable housing issues in the town as the program could be used toward residential properties as well as businesses. Senator Carper walked through Penny Square, stopping to speak with Mark Clery, owner of Shock Vinyl, a vintage record store in the center. He also learned more about Studio You, a day spa the King’s recently sold that is also located in the small shopping mall before heading to Studio B, a new print and graphics shop in Milford.

Zack King with Senator Carper at fondue

“What we have here is a print shop and artist gallery,” Brianna Westover told Senator Carper when he asked about their business. “We got the idea because we both worked in the print industry for a few years. On our honeymoon in Seattle, we visited a small print shop and decided we could do this in our own state.”

Brianna’s husband, Ben, explained that Studio B also had small artist’s studios available for rent and a resident artist whose works were on display as well as for sale around the shop. The Westover’s were recipients of an Encouraging Development, Growth and Expansion (EDGE) grant recently and Carper asked them how completing the extensive grant application was helping them grow their business.

“The process of writing the grant required us to do some planning,” Brianna said. “It gave us a framework for the business and now that we are open, it is kind of a guidebook to where we were and where we are going. It helps us know what we need to do to grow.”

Senator Carper asked how the state or federal government could assist their business and Brianna explained that she just needed information on how it all worked. She and Ben also pointed out that better planning for road construction would also be helpful as having multiple roads in a small downtown torn up at once was not helpful.

“This falls under the state Department of Transportation,” Senator Carper said. “They respond to their local legislators so I would suggest you use them to facilitate this. I think other businesses here have voiced their concerns about the roadwork as well. Hopefully, your local representatives are involved. I am very impressed with what you are doing here as not only are you helping the community, but the city as well.”

The last visit in Milford was Park Place, one of the older businesses downtown. There, Carper chatted with Chris Fitzgerald who managed the business with his sister, Erin.

“This actually belongs to my mother,” Fitzgerald said. “She bought it in 1989 and we’ve had it ever since. Before that, it was Gary’s Dockside. We did some remodeling and kept the dance floor. I think we may be the only place in Milford with a dedicated dance floor.”

Senator Carper asked what made Fitzgerald’s family open in Milford. Fitzgerald explained that his parents owned the Kent and Sussex Inn at the time and purchasing another establishment that was similar seemed to be a natural progression. Fitzgerald and his sister also purchased the Milford Tavern a few years ago. Like the other businesses, Senator Carper asked how the state and federal government could assist Park Place.

“One of the biggest issues we face is the tax on alcohol as sometimes, it is as much as 50 percent,” Fitzgerald said. “During COVID, like all restaurants and bars, we faced some difficulties but kept things going with to-go orders. We took advantage of the PPP and managed it well, so we did not have to pay it back. We also appreciate that the state kept to-go alcohol as that has boosted sales as well.”

Trained employees are another issue Fitzgerald faces. Senator Carper suggested he reach out to Chad Robinson at the Food Bank of Delaware to see how their culinary program could help him with staffing.

“It is small businesses like those I visited today who make Delaware great,” Senator Carper said. “Studio B, Park Place and fondue are just a small representation of how small businesses are making a huge impact across our great state.”



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