Grace Street sees resurgence with new retailers


For years, shopping and retail traffic in downtown Wilmington was concentrated around the intersection of Market and Front streets, but now that traffic is expanding outward to areas like Grace Street.

Within the last month, both Outdoor Equipped and Coastal Urge opened retail storefronts along Grace Street, with both stores catering to a somewhat different clientele than existing downtown retail vendors.

Outdoor Equipped president Chad Hankinson said his half brother Mike Mayo started the company in Wilmington four years ago as a solely online retailer. As a U.S. Army veteran, Mayo had an interest in outdoor clothing and footwear. Outdoors lifestyle clothing and accessories are what populate Outdoor Equipped’s new location in the old Efird’s Department Store building at the southeast corner of Front and Grace streets.

“We had a warehouse out near the airport but I didn’t really feel like we had an identity,” Hankinson said. “That is when I decided we needed a brick and mortar store. The online sales will be 50 times what the store will ever be but we still needed it.”

Hankinson’s family has a history in retail. His great grandfather owned the largest department store in downtown Denver prior to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Now, that family legacy lives on. Two of Hankinson’s sons, Martin and Rob, play key roles in running Outdoor Equipped. Because both sons attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington was the natural choice for the Outdoor Equipped headquarters.

With the unique and historic feel of downtown Wilmington, Hankinson said downtown was the perfect fit for the first retail location.

“These are all successful, non-franchise companies down here and that is what we are,” he said. “The reality is if you move into the Mayfaire area it is saturated, the mall scene is dying, so I really felt like downtown embodied our branding.”

Wilmington Downtown Inc. executive director Ed Wolverton said the expansion of downtown’s retail center and the mix of businesses continues to grow. In the case of Grace Street, Wolverton said the opening of the new Courtyard by Marriott hotel played a large role.

“I think a transformational project that really helped to catalyze the changes has been the opening of the Courtyard by Marriot hotel,” Wolverton said. “With the hotel opening we are seeing how that is sending some ripple effects through the surrounding neighborhood.”

Other new businesses are soon to follow in opening on Grace Street like the Caribbean-themed Reggae Café moving into the space most recently operated as The Empire Room and 70 West Builders moving into the space across the street from the hotel.

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