Business boom continues in Smyrna

SMYRNA — Let the good times roll!

This year a mix of a thawing recession, local population increase, engaged town council, state-provided downtown development funds and an active redevelopment authority are coming together to help revitalize Smyrna’s downtown district.

New businesses and restaurants have been opening every few months in the town of just more than 11,000 people.

Last June Brick Works Brewing and Eats opened just outside downtown on Route 13; late last year Slate Café — restaurant, bar and billiard hall — opened just north of downtown and more recently a yarn shop.

The Yarn Maven hosted a grand opening for its location on 11 W. Commerce St. on April 8.

Families walk along Commerce Street during Smyrna’s Night Out on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“The Yarn Maven has really been a very positive success story so far,” said Rick Ferrell, the business and economic development consultant for the town.

“It’s a business that pulls from the region because a specialty shop like that can’t survive on the town’s population alone. It’s a good example of how downtowns can attract specialty businesses that you don’t just see everywhere.

A family listens to music from their front porch during Smyrna’s Night Out on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“They become the reason downtown areas are more unique than shopping centers and strip malls by adding a certain texture and feel to the area.”

The coming months seem to be no exception as several new businesses open their doors.

The Lemon Leaf Café and JR’s Past Time Pub

The closing of The Inn at Duck Creek late last year was a setback for businesses on one of the downtown’s main intersections at Commerce and Main streets, but a new restaurant and bar will open next week in its place.

The Lemon Leaf Cafe’ will be opening soon in Smyrna. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Local restaurateur JR Alfree recently decided to rent the building and open a second location for his bar and restaurant The Lemon Leaf Cafe and JR’s Past Time Pub. The first location was opened in Chestertown, Maryland, in 2012.

“I first opened The Lemon Leaf Cafe and JR’s Past Time Pub in historic downtown Chestertown in an old restored building with four storefronts, so when I learned about this old restored building with four storefronts in historic downtown Smyrna, it made a lot of sense to make it my second location,” said Mr. Alfree.

Brittney, Brian and daughter Cara Passerell of Smyrna grab some food during Smyrna’s Night Out on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“When I was little, we used to come out to Smyrna all the time for dinner and special occasions at The Wayside Inn on Route 13. It closed over 15 years ago and it seems like no one has really tried to recreate something like it so I thought it was a great opportunity to do that.”

The restaurant and bar will have a menu with “classic Eastern Shore food with a twist,” Mr. Alfree said.

Several factors weighed on his decision to open a second location in Smyrna. The fact that the renovation and redesign of the space was very light helped.
“The building was just renovated around two years ago, all we really had to do was paint and redecorate,” he said. “The great thing about the Lemon Leaf Cafe is that you can treat it like your second dining room and come all the time: We have entrees starting at $13 and going up to $30.”

The flurry of business activity downtown also convinced Mr. Alfree that opening in Smyrna was a wise move.

Joe Trainor with the Joe Trainor Trio performs on the main stage during Smyrna’s Night Out on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“That’s one of the things that helped me make my decision — there is a lot of work and commitment in Smyrna to revitalize its downtown district,” he said. “Things like the facade grants they have for homes and businesses make a big difference. The town is really taking a strong leadership position on making Smyrna beautiful. That’s important to me.”

As far as managing both locations, Mr. Alfree plans to be making the 40 minute drive between his two locations frequently.

“I’m going to go back and fourth a lot,” he said.

Although the exact opening date was not set as of Friday evening, Mr. Alfree said that the Lemon Leaf Cafe will be open to customers some time next week and the JR’s Past Time Pub portion several days afterward.

Maverick Texas BBQ

Dave Dettra, the owner of the family-operated Maverick Texas BBQ at 19 W. Commerce St., has been working on restoring the building he bought in foreclosure for about four years.

“It was The City Tap and the Crystal Pistol before we bought it — it had been closed since 2011 and it was in bad shape,” said Mr. Dettra. “We started doing a lot of the work ourselves. It needed roofing and flooring repairs all over. We eventually hired a general contractor and things have been moving much faster now. “

Maverick Texas BBQ at 19 W. Commerce Street in Smyrna. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Mr. Dettra said the town and surrounding businesses have made the process of launching the restaurant much easier.

“Town government really welcomed our presence — they helped point us in the right direction with things and we’d have made a lot of mistakes if it wasn’t for their guidance,” he said.

Between its two floors, the building has an estimated 5,000 square feet. It will seat 100, plus 40 more on its mezzanine and another 60 on the patio.

Cecilia Grace members,Tessa, left, and Cecilia Sugarman perform on the Odd Fellows Stage during Smyrna’s Night Out on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Mr. Dettra said the restaurant will feature “traditional Texas barbecue items like brisket, ribs, sausage, chicken, pulled pork and an array of sides. He also plans to host live music four nights per week year-round.

“The music styles will be a variety,” he said. “We’ll have acoustic music on Wednesdays, a singing pianist on Thursdays, and dance bands like rock and country on Friday and Saturday.”

Although the musical lineup is ambitious, Mr. Dettra believes that his roots in the music industry — 37 years as a keyboard player in a dance band called Jellyroll — will help him coordinate the talent.

“We’re right on the cusp of opening fully, we have to get all our permitting in order and the examination by the Fire Marshall,” said Mr. Dettra. “We don’t have a hard date set yet, but I see us opening fully in a few weeks.”

Cobalt Manor

Lindsay Powell-Conley and her husband Timothy are looking to open their second business in the downtown area this fall: Cobalt Manor, an Inn-style event space and restaurant at the site of the old Wright Mansion on 47 E. Commerce St.

Former Smyrna City Manager Dave Hugg announces The Joe Trainor Trio on the main stage during Smyrna’s Night Out on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Their first business, Conley Trading Company on 62 W. Commerce St., opened over a year ago. Now that the business has made it past the first year mark, Ms. Powell-Conley said that it’s starting to find its legs.

The store is a consignment shop and outlet for local artists and craftsmen that sells antiques, vintage items and homemade organic soaps and lotions.

Ms. Powell-Conley has been trying for several years to start a business in the old Wright Mansion — which she says should actually be called the JC Bailey Mansion after its original owner.

“I actually grew up in that house,” she said. “I’ve tried to get the property multiple times — this is probably the third or fourth time attempting to acquire it. I knew from living in it and restoring it that it’s a huge undertaking and unless you have something profitable in there, it’d be difficult to afford the upkeep and utilities for the property.”

The town of Smyrna purchased the building at an auction and about 9 months later solicited a request for proposals on a business that could occupy it.

“A lot of people just wanted to tear it down because it’s commercial property,” said Ms. Powell-Conley. “The town and myself wanted to save it because it’s a beautiful piece of Smyrna history. Bigger investors don’t care about that kind of stuff.”

When completed, the Inn will be called Cobalt Manor and act as an event venue geared toward weddings. Other events such as birthday parties, holiday parties and baby showers would also fit well, said Ms. Powell-Conley.

Ms. Powell-Conley thinks Cobalt Manor will fit in Smyrna so well because the type of event space consumers want is in short supply in the town.

Although much restoration has been completed on the project, Ms. Powell-Conley said there is more to do. Her husband, who owns a contracting business, is doing a lot of the work himself, with the exception of plumbing, electrical and other licensed labor.

She said that they are tentatively planning to open the doors in the fall.

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