Tubman Byway seen as way to boost business, tourism

The byway also could lead to more individuals starting small businesses alongside it, said Ron Rucker, chairman of the Harriet Tubman Byway Management Organization. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The byway also could lead to more individuals starting small businesses alongside it, said Ron Rucker, chairman of the Harriet Tubman Byway Management Organization. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

CAMDEN — About 20 government officials and business owners gathered Friday morning outside the 235-year-old Camden building that currently houses the Delaware Bay Trading Company. With the sun shining down brightly and cardboard posters set up around the scene, officials announced the launch of a new historic route.

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway will benefit local businesses, increase tourism and promote history, according to members of both companies and government bodies.

Unveiled Friday in Kent County after it first launched in Delaware back in March in a Wilmington event, the byway traces the route followed by abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who led slaves to freedom from the Eastern Shore to northern states before the Civil War. It enters Delaware by Sandtown, following Del. 10 to Dover, where it joins U.S. 13 up to Smyrna. From there, the road travels through New Castle County, entering Pennsylvania past Winterthur.

The route is one of six designated byways in the First State.

Supporters dream of a future where tourists follow the byway through Kent County, stopping at small businesses and learning about history along the way.

John Banks, deputy director of the Delaware Small Business Association, was excited Friday to stand where Harriet Tubman passed. He described it as “breathtaking.” (Special to  The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

John Banks, deputy director of the Delaware Small Business Association, was excited Friday to stand where Harriet Tubman passed. He described it as “breathtaking.” (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Local stores that wish to participate can become officially branded affiliates, with signs indicating as much.

Nine businesses in the Camden-Wyoming area are onboard, and officials are hopeful more will join soon.

Beverly Knight, who owns Knight’s Fine Jewelry in Camden, said the byway will lead to benefits that go beyond greater profits.

“I didn’t realize how much there was to gain, except I think this will become a tourist attraction,” she said. “I didn’t really look at it that way. I just kind of looked at it that the history and how deep it goes and how important it goes.”

The byway also could lead to more individuals starting small businesses alongside it, said Ron Rucker, chairman of the Harriet Tubman Byway Management Organization.

Business owners attending Friday’s event were enthused about the initiative.

Jim Rezac, owner of Delaware Guitar School, was contacted by organizers and knew he wanted to join the endeavor, even though he offers guitar lessons and the byway is geared toward physical stores selling goods.

“The thing that I’m doing is giving free lessons but I’m doing it via Skype or FaceTime, so that way if someone passes through as a visitor but they live in New Castle or Sussex, they can still take advantage of the freebie lessons,” he said.

The Small Business Administration, which announced the news conference, is working with Delaware tourism officials. A phone app is also being developed to allow travelers to connect with byway-affiliated businesses.

Participating stores will offer “byway bucks,” which can be redeemed to allow holders to receive discounts on merchandise or access to special events. (Special to The Delaware State News)

Participating stores will offer “byway bucks,” which can be redeemed to allow holders to receive discounts on merchandise or access to special events. (Special to The Delaware State News)

Participating stores will offer “byway bucks,” which can be redeemed to allow holders to receive discounts on merchandise or access to special events. The bucks were handed out Saturday at the Wyoming Peach Festival for the first time.

Speakers at the event Friday gushed about the prospect of following a path once traveled by Harriet Tubman.

“It’s breathtaking standing on the same grounds as her,” said John Banks, SBA Delaware deputy district director.

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, called the byway’s launch a “win-win” for presenting Kent County to the country and boosting small businesses, while Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, praised it as benefiting the area in several ways.

“We kid around with our good friends up north in New Castle County that the only thing they know about Kent County is it’s just a stop in between getting to the beach,” he said. “Well, it’s initiatives like this to make sure they realize the living history, to take a stop to learn, learn about the past.”

In Mr. Rezac’s eyes, Central Kent County is the perfect place for this type of effort.

“It’s a slice of America,” he said.

The Delaware Bay Trading Company is one of nine businesses in Camden and Wyoming participating in the initiative to promote the Tubman Byway. Others include Knight’s Fine Jewelry, Delaware Guitar School and Yarn and Bone Pet Supply Co. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The Delaware Bay Trading Company is one of nine businesses in Camden and Wyoming participating in the initiative to promote the Tubman Byway. Others include Knight’s Fine Jewelry, Delaware Guitar School and Yarn and Bone Pet Supply Co. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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