Owners of easySpeak to rehab Milford’s historic Penney Square

Marissa and Zack King, owners of easySpeak Spirits, have recently purchased the Penney Square building in downtown Milford. They will be opening an as-yet-undisclosed business to create a “fresh vision” for the area. (Submitted photo/Marissa King)

MILFORD — The Penney Square building in downtown Milford will be getting a face-lift soon, but the structure’s new owners want to keep plans for a business there under wraps for now.

Marissa and Zack King, the owners of Milford’s easySpeak Spirits, announced Thursday via Facebook that they have purchased the historic building, at the corner of North Walnut and Northeast Front streets, which was once home to a J.C. Penney location.

“We have so much envisioned for this property and can’t wait to share those visions with everyone!” the Facebook post said. “Over the coming months we will be doing our best to improve the building as well as bring a fresh vision to the downtown Milford area.”

The building’s facade has seen better days.

“The building has only gotten really bad over the last year or so,” said Jo Schmeiser, executive director of the Greater Milford Chamber of Commerce. “Before that, it wasn’t the best-looking building in town but wasn’t the worst eyesore either.”

Ms. King did not want to disclose any specifics of the couple’s plans.

“We have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do there. It’s just minor details that aren’t locked in,” she said. “We want it to be a surprise for everyone in Milford.”

She did say that the plan is to “put in something new that will bring people to downtown Milford” and that could “potentially” stay open relatively late.

When asked about what the secret business idea could be, Ms. Schmeiser hazarded a guess.

“I hope it’s food, beverage (and/or) some type of retail shop,” she said.

“Milford has some wonderful eateries and shops; however, we could always use more of those types of businesses in the downtown district,” she added. “Those types of businesses draw not only locals but out-of-town visitors, as well.”

Regardless of what the Kings decide to open, Ms. Schmeiser is sure the couple has the business acumen to make it successful.

“Since Marissa and Zack opened easySpeak in 2017, they have been on top of current trends, have been extremely creative and have watched and learned what their customers like,” she said.

“This has enabled them to not only have repeat customers but has helped grow their clientele,” she said.

“Because of their due diligence, they have been able to expand their business, while continuing to provide excellent product and excellent service,” she said. “That’s a recipe — pun intended — for any business or organization to thrive.”

The easySpeak restaurant/distillery itself will not be moving into the new space. The Kings plan to have that establishment remain open indefinitely at its current location on Del. 14.

“We’ll definitely be happy to have them downtown,” said Cat Perfetti, executive director of Downtown Milford Inc., a nonprofit group.

The Kings’ undefined business is not the only one moving to that part of downtown Milford. La Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant which also has a location in Dover, will be moving from U.S. 113 onto Walnut Street.

Carlos Estrada, the owner of La Hacienda, said he believes his business will benefit downtown.

“I think it’ll be a great thing for downtown for us to provide drinks and also perhaps a little entertainment on the outside patio,” he said when announcing the move in August.

Mr. Estrada said he also believes that the move will be good for his eatery.

“It’ll let us provide a different atmosphere than what we’re offering in the (Milford Square) shopping center,” he said. “I think downtown Milford is definitely reviving itself.”

Ms. Perfetti said she hopes that La Hacienda and the business the Kings are opening will bring more foot traffic downtown at night, when the area gets quiet. She said that because many of the businesses there are family-owned, shopkeepers tend to close at 5 p.m., so they can spend time with their relatives.

La Hacienda may keep people downtown later into the night, but there are establishments other than restaurants moving into that neighborhood.
Back in June, Loft Realty opened in the Pikus Building, a recently restored historic structure once home to Lou’s Bootery, across the street from Penney Square.

“We couldn’t choose a better location,” said Zachary Foust, Loft Realty’s owner. “It’s the hub of two main roads, Walnut and Front streets.”

This sentiment was echoed by Ms. Schmeiser, who said Penney Square “is on one of the main gateways in and out of the city and includes a stoplight, so it lends itself to a lot of visibility and exposure.”

There are others interested in this corridor, as well.

At its most recent retreat meeting, the City Council heard from City Manager Mark Whitfield about potential plans to redevelop a parking lot in that vicinity.

“One of the proposals in the Rivertown Rebirth plan was actually doing a fill-in between the old (M&T Bank) site and where the (Delaware Branding Co.) tattoo parlor is now,” he said.

If the area is to remain a parking lot, Mr. Whitfield said improvements would need to be made, “but it might be advantageous to repurpose that parking lot.”

Mr. Foust appreciates the corner’s history.

“This corner, in general, has seen the most in downtown Milford,” Mr. Foust said. “It’s just adjacent to the giant beautiful bank. On the other corner is the old J.C. Penney building.”

According to Ms. King, J.C. Penney was housed in the location from 1929 to 1976. Before that, the site was home to the National Hotel, which was ultimately torn down for the new department store.

At present, Ms. King said there are still tenants in Penney Square, including a church, a salon and a tailor. She said there are no plans to remove them from their current spaces.

Ms. King does not know exactly when her new business will be opening. She said the couple is still in the process of getting approvals for the project.

Once that process is done, she estimates it will take between a year and a year-and-a-half for the project to be completed.