On any given weekend, expect to see a plethora of out-of-state license plates in Delaware’s parking lots. Shoppers from New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania love the lack of sales tax. The price you see is the price you pay. But there’s another reason why the Greater Wilmington area attracts so many consumers. It’s an area filled with an abundance of privately owned specialty shops in distinctly Delaware settings, from cosmopolitan Wilmington to small-town Newark. Surrounded by restaurants and attractions, Wilmington’s stores, boutiques and galleries are goldmines for holiday shoppers. And if you’re visiting on Nov. 27, you can support Small Business Saturday.
Here are four fun areas to explore, along with some of our favorite shops for retail therapy.
Neighborhood Finds: Wilmington
Like many cities, Wilmington is a collection of communities. The Route 202 corridor, known as Concord (Con-kerd) Pike, is a gateway to the city. Stop at Peter Kate, in Fairfax Shopping Center, named for co-founder Sissy Harris’ children. Harris started the shop in 2001 with her mother, retail veteran Kathy Savage. What began with shoes expanded to include jewelry, apparel, home goods and gifts. Brands are trending yet sophisticated — classics with an edge.
Trolley Square resides within the city limits, but the shops, markets, and restaurants possess their own personalities. What’s with the name? From 1864 until the 1970s, a barn on Delaware Avenue held Wilmington’s horse-drawn trolleys, electric trolleys and buses. On the barn’s former site is a three-story shopping center named Trolley Square, which helped give rise to the neighborhood name. Trolley Square Market, the center’s newest addition, has a hot stash of cool finds. Billed as a “modern general store,” the boutique blends essential oils with vintage finds and gorgeous stationery that will make you forget email.
For generations, Wilmington’s business and cultural district has been a shopping hub, especially for those workers in the surrounding offices. Thanks to the many new apartments in the city’s heart, this area is also full of residents who want a live-work-play lifestyle.
Wright & Simon and A.R. Morris Jewelers — both on North Market Street — have been part of the process. Founded in 1935, Wright & Simon carries the designer legends in men’s clothing. Consider Trafalgar, Hart Schaffner Marx and Dion. This haberdashery still believes in a perfect fit, and master tailors are on site to meet customers’ high expectations. Because there is nothing like a sharp-dressed man, head to this shop for made-to-measure gifts.Albert R. Morris started his jewelry store in 1960, and it is still family-owned. The shop carries Rolex, Mont Blanc, Lagos and other high-end brands that are status symbol standards. A.R. Morris isn’t afraid to break the mold: Custom designs are a specialty.
New to the downtown area — but not Wilmington — Morgan’s of Delaware is a ladies’ boutique with clothing for all occasions. However, it’s particularly well known for the fancy apparel that shines at events like the Grand Opera House Gala. Martha Morgan is renowned for her fashion expertise, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
This section of the city is also home to fine artists. In fact, Wilmington boasts a Creative District, a nurturing area for musicians, designers, tech innovators, makers and manufacturers.
The LaFate Gallery features the folk art of Jamaican-born Eunice LaFate, who counts Grandma Moses as an influence. A public speaker on “Folk Art & Culture,” LaFate is a longtime educator who now uses her brush to inform and enlighten.
Town & Shore Handcrafted showcases the work of Delaware-born Liv McClintock, who creates leather goods and apparel. The former IT pro named her shop her hometown of Rehoboth Beach and the summers she spent with family in Brooklyn and Wilmington. The shop is aptly located: Downtown Wilmington was once full of tanneries and textile factories.
Nataki Oliver founded The Sold Firm to spotlight modern and contemporary visual artists, including the work of an incarcerated artist. The gallery, which has been featured in the New York Times, is an intimate space so you can learn much about the art before you buy.
The Toni & Stuart B. Young Gallery at the Delaware College of Art and Design features DCAD students’ work and artists from the mid-Atlantic region.
Gateway to Chateau Country: Greenville
Technically, Greenville is a Wilmington zip code, but locals know that this area is a prized piece of real estate peppered with upscale properties. (President Joe Biden has a home here.) The community is a stylish bridge between the city on one side of Route 52 and Brandywine Valley’s estate-sprinkled hills. There are several shopping centers, including the Greenville Shopping Center.
Here you’ll find Houppette (ou-pet), which is French for powder puff. Cristi Miller started the boutique to offer high-end skincare products, cosmetics and fragrances. Houpette has since expanded to include clothing and accessories. Lines include Laura Mercier, Lab to Beauty and Kevyn Aucoin.
The center also houses the Wilmington Country Store, a destination for Delaware bluebloods since 1952. Despite the name, this is an apparel shop for men and women. Dependable brands include Eileen Fisher, Saint James, Peter Millar and Smathers & Branson. Love plaids and prints? This is your go-to place.
You can also shop for women at The Pink Turtle, owned and operated by friends and running partners Christine Kendle and Carey Pauley. The shop was named for Pauley’s pink-loving daughter, Savannah, an honorary member of “The Turtles,” a running club. She died at age 10. Partial proceeds from the shop’s SAVANNAHSTRONG line help fight pediatric cancer.
Across Route 52 in Powder Mill Square, Whimsy is owned by Deirdre Pettinaro and Janet Jornlin, who previously owned the Greenville boutique Apropos. At Whimsy, you’ll find women’s apparel and gifts for the home and children. Of course, you can also order the stationery and invitations that put Apropos on the map.
An Elevated Village: Centreville
Like Greenville, Centreville is a Wilmington zip. But the country setting gives the neighborhood a different vibe from the city’s suburbs. Like an old-time village, there are charming shops in buildings that hug the sidewalks. It is a walkable center for fabulous finds, food and fine wine.
Adorn Goods is a destination for those who set a stunning table, whether it’s in the dining room or nestled against the bed or sofa. Along with glassware and serving dishes, you’ll find candles, diffusers and decorative objects. And the kids’ stuff? Adorable!
Interior designer Karen Helme uses vintage and antique items to create lovely tableaux in her shop, the perfectly named Found. Each scene looks like something you’d see in one of the estates that typify the Centreville area. Think timeless elegance and refinement.
If you’re in the mood for vintage furniture and home decor, check out The Beehive, where cobalt blue-and-white vases, tiles, jars and lamps are always in style. There are also items with French flair.
Fashionable area brides are familiar with Wild Thyme, a flower shop tucked in a historic building. The florist’s signature arrangements also grace locals’ well-dressed tables. But this pretty shop also sells pitchers, pillows and even Ruth Bader Ginsburg ornaments. You never know what you’ll find.
Longtime residents also know about Colliers of Centreville, founded in 1981 after Linda Collier returned from Europe and shopped in a local store. The clerk told her: “The whites are over there, and the reds are there—take your pick.” Frustrated, the determined Boston native opened a friendly wine store with informative classes. Collier is responsible for training countless Delaware palates.
More than a College Town: Newark
These days, you will see people of all ages strolling Main Street in downtown Newark. (New-Ark.) The University of Delaware wraps around the shopping area but there are also retirees and young parents pushing strollers.
Mimi Sullivan witnessed the evolution. Delaware’s funky fashionista opened Bloom in 2004 to offer eclectic wares made by U.S. manufacturers and artists. The shop has become a destination for students, professors and other Main Street shoppers seeking cutting-edge jewelry, apparel, and gifts. (There is also a location in Greenville.)
GrassRoots is another Newark icon. The shop, started by Marilyn Dickey, has been a fixture since 1975, and thousands of UD students — including yours truly — have shopped there. The boutique is a one-stop-shop for home, jewelry, and clothing gifts.
Over at Rainbow Records, vinyl is alive and well. So are cassettes, turntables, CDs — anything that delivers a beat with a nostalgic flair. The shop celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019.
If you like vintage, you’ll love Aunt Margaret’s Antique Mall, which has more than 10 dealers under one roof. This is the happy hunting ground for unique gifts, from handcrafted pottery to vintage clothing to jewelry.
For the craft beer-lover in your life — or for you, since shopping is thirsty work — pop into The Delaware Growler, which offers beers that customers can take home in glass or ceramic jugs (aka growlers). There are 99 bottles of beer on the wall. No kidding! Create a six-pack.
In any of these Delaware towns and villages, you’ll find no shortage of independently owned restaurants for lunch, happy hour or dinner. See visitwilmingtonde.com/eat-drink/ for a listing.