Prime location: New businesses slated for US 113 in Milford

Surf and Turf Steakhouse owner Steve Akoglu tests new equipment behind the restaurant’s checkout counter Saturday. The Milford restaurant is due to open by January. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

MILFORD — Walnut Street may be the historic center of commerce in Milford, but over the years, it has been supplanted to a large degree by U.S. 113, also known as Dupont Boulevard.

Today, the road is home to all of Milford’s big-box stores, four of its grocery stores and some of the most heavily trafficked chain businesses in town, like Wawa and Chick-fil-A.

“Back in 1937, you had 113 coming down and around, but there was no commercial on 113,” said Rob Pierce, Milford’s planning and economic development director.

“I think it wasn’t until you got into shifting (away) from downtowns in the late ’60s and ’70s that things started trying to locate out there,” he said. “I know 113 expanded from a two-lane road to four lanes in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Mr. Pierce said that in the early ’90s, Walmart built its original location in Milford on U.S. 113 in the same shopping center that Food Lion is in today. But eventually, Walmart outgrew the space and moved to its present location off Buccaneer Street.

Today, Arthur Helmick owns that original Walmart property. He has torn down half of the old building and set about constructing an independent movie theater, Milford Movies 9.

Movies opening soon

“We’re hoping to bring 400,000 people through our doors” every year, Mr. Helmick said.

He said the theater, which is nearly complete, will be 40,000 square feet and have nine screening rooms, each with a state-of-the-art laser projector.

In doing market research on the area, Mr. Helmick found that the closest theaters to Milford were in Dover and Lewes.

“All the people from the west back to Maryland and east to the Delaware Bay and from the southern part of Dover all the way down to by the seashore (were) underserved in the screen market,” Mr. Helmick said.

Due to COVID-19, he had to push the opening date for the theater back. Now, he plans to open by the end of the year.

Still, Mr. Helmick, who also owns Westside Movies in Middletown, said movie theaters are a safe place to recreate in the COVID-19 era.

“Our computer system does the distanced seating,” he said.

“If you buy online, let’s say you come by yourself, it will block seats out, so that you’re not sitting next to someone,” Mr. Helmick said. “If three of you came, it would do the same thing. The three of you would sit together, and it would block seats on either side and around you.”

In addition to standard COVID-19 precautions like stringent cleaning and requiring masks, he said that movie theaters have always had to ventilate and filter the air in their facilities, leaving them well-prepared for COVID-19 protocols.

“We’ve always had to deal with a high ventilation system due to the fact that you’re putting a lot of people in a room, so you’ve always had (carbon dioxide) issues,” Mr. Helmick said.

When the movie theater does finally open, he expects it to compliment the other businesses in the area well.

“They’ll come there to go to Walmart. They’ll come there to eat before. They’ll come to watch a movie,” Mr. Helmick said. “The area can handle the traffic because we have a big four-lane highway in front.”

New steakhouse coming soon

Right across the parking lot from the new cinema, local restaurateur Steve Akoglu is opening a steakhouse called Surf and Turf where the Bob Evans used to be. Mr. Akoglu owns several other restaurants Downstate, including The Palace, a little farther south on U.S. 113.

The new Surf and Turf Steakhouse at North Dupont Boulevard is planning to open at the beginning of the new year. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

“We’re going to have steak and seafood,” he said of his new venture, which he plans to open at the end of this year or in January. The restaurant “will have pasta dishes, salads (and) a couple sandwich dishes,” as well.

“I think it’s going to be for everybody,” Mr. Akoglu said. “If you come with your kids and your family, then you can have dinner there. We’re not just looking for suits and ties.”

He said the menu will include accessibly priced dishes, in addition to expensive delicacies.

“It’s going to be for everyone’s budget,” Mr. Akoglu said. “We’re going to have Sunday specials for maybe $15, and then, we’ll have some dry-aged steaks on the menu, as well. That’s probably going to be like $35 to $40 per plate. But the average is going to be $15 to $20.”

He said there are no other steakhouses nearby.

“You have to drive at least 20 to 25 minutes to reach another steakhouse,” Mr. Akoglu said, either “down the beach or up north to Dover.”

Self-storage proposed

New development on U.S. 113 isn’t limited to the far north side of town.

Where U.S. 113 crosses the Mispillion River, developer Bruce O’Heir hopes to construct a new self-storage business.

“I have an option to buy (the property), and I’m still deciding whether or not to exercise that,” Mr. O’Heir said.

If he does decide to move forward with the project, he expects it would be complete some time in 2022.

Mr. O’Heir owns three other storage facilities in Sussex County, one of which is on U.S. 113 in Georgetown, so he’s familiar with traffic in the area.

“Part of the conversation with the (Milford) City Council was that they were concerned with the traffic on 113, which is quite extensive,” he said. “For a commercial usage of that property, self-storage probably has the least traffic impact of any commercial project.”

Mr. O’Heir said the high-traffic spot was attractive to him because “location and visibility are very important for a storage facility.”

Another reason he likes the property is the proximity of other retail businesses.

Across Northeast Front Street, Mr. Pierce said that Milford Plaza has been growing.

“The plaza’s been consistently doing work to improve the center,” he said. “They built a four-unit pad site out front that has AT&T, Starbucks. I think there’s a medical office in there.”

Mr. Pierce said that “where the Donut Connection was, on (that) site, they actually went ahead and built a Valvoline quick oil change. As part of that, they ended up putting that whole shared-use path in.”

Looking south

Mr. Pierce added that Cypress Hall, a strip mall on the far south side of town anchored by Redner’s, is also poised to expand.

“Milford Ponds on the southern side of town on 113 is building homes at a pretty good pace, and then Simpson’s Crossing, which is the large farm north of it (across from Cypress Hall), is supposed to begin home construction in the next month or two,” Mr. Pierce said.

“I think with some of these new developments going in along that corridor, you’re going to see more commercial interest in the Cypress Hall shopping center,” he said.

“If you end up having another couple hundred homes go in that area over the next couple of years, I think that drives up the interest in putting some services down in that area,” Mr. Pierce said. “Most of our existing commercial is on the northern side of town.”

He said new construction will likely commence at Cypress Hall as retailers try to capitalize on the new residential growth in that part of town.

“They’ve built parts of the shopping center as they’ve felt they have demand for tenant space, but there is still room within the shopping center to build some additional buildings,” Mr. Pierce said.

Also, he said there are “at least five pad sites out front that could accommodate standalone uses.”

Mr. Pierce also noted that the Royal Farms location on Shawnee Road and U.S. 113 has been remodeled and is slated to reopen soon.

“That’s an overhaul with one of their newer looks,” he said. “All of the construction work should be done. They’re just waiting to get things up and running inside the building.”

In addition to expanding the size of the building and the parking lot, Mr. Pierce said Royal Farms has “shifted the access away from the red light so it provides a little bit of an easier in and out off of 113.”