West Side Grows…and Grows…and Grows
Due to its role as a center of commerce, a market street, or a main street, is often the focus of city revitalizations, and for Wilmington that generally also holds true. Therefore it takes voices from various parts of a city to ensure initiatives are born with a holistic eye toward the greater community.
That’s where West Side Grows Together comes in. A coalition of Wilmington’s West Side residents, businesses, churches and community groups, the group collaborates to make the West Side’s neighborhoods the best they can be.
From its home inside the West End Neighborhood House, West Side Grows Together focuses on four neighborhoods: Cool Spring/Tilton Park, Hilltop, Little Italy and The Flats, which is generally the area to the west of I-95, between Lancaster and Pennsylvania Avenues, with North Jackson Street and the railroad tracks west of Bancroft Parkway as its vertical borders. Their initiatives touch six areas of specific interest: community pride, businesses and jobs, youth opportunities, great parks and gardens, quality housing and public safety. These initiatives often include events, which West Side Grows Together may lead, or simply support with a wide variety of resources.
Several events are happening in October 2019:
WestSide Vegan Restaurant Week, (Facebook Event) Sunday, October 6 through Saturday, October 12. Led by V-Trap Kitchen & Lounge, vegan and not-traditionally-vegan local restaurants will feature vegan options. Other participating locations include: Mrs. Robino’s, Kozy Korner, Chef Rock’s Kitchen, El Toro, Milk & Honey, Rocco's Italian Grill and (just outside the West Side in Trolley) Honeybee Seasonal Kitchen and Market. Perhaps the most surprising participant is Locale BBQ Post, which one might guess by the name is a typically meat-heavy establishment.
Daniel Sheridan, chef/owner of Locale BBQ and other Wilmington restaurants, said, “We wanted to participate to be a good neighbor with V-Trap, and do anything to help promote the neighborhood we are in. A vegan item and a BBQ shop aren’t usually the combo you think of, but we carry tofu and have other vegan options in our restaurants, like Stitch House Brewery. We grabbed some tofu from Faire Market and smoked it like we would our meats and gave it a little BBQ glaze, cooked some shaved Brussels down with our dry rub and made a little salad bowl of sorts with it.”
Next up is United Neighbors: Meet Us on the Bridge, a three-day event with distinct themes that range from art to food to youth activities, and will involve closing the 7th Street Bridge off to vehicular traffic and creating a pop-up community space. The idea is to literally and figuratively “bridge” the gap between the neighborhoods that I-95 cleaved in the mid-Twentieth Century.
On Thursday, October 10, both inner walls of the 7th Street Bridge, normally accessible by pedestrians and eastward-bound vehicles, will be covered in paint. Designed by Wilmington artist Terrance Vann, the two-sided mural will be completed by community participants, paint brushes in hand.
The transformation isn’t limited to two-dimensions: temporary additions of flowers, plants and lights, as well as furniture, will welcome neighbors from both the east and west sides of the bridge for fellowship.
Sarah Lester, whose technical title is Cornerstone West CDC’s Director, but colloquially known as the person who runs West Side Grows Together, says, “United Neighbors is particularly unique. The whole concept came from the community and is driven by their desire to connect and unite across I-95, a highway that divided the city when it was built.” She adds, “So much of our work focuses on: How do we move forward? How do we demand that our vision becomes reality? And how do we make sure that the West Side and Wilmington grows together?”
The following day, Friday, October 11, will see a community meal put together for the West Side neighborhood, provided by Veronica's Kitchen, V-Trap, Soul in da Hole Catering, Fish Man as well as two local dessert companies. The first 200 people will be able to sample a variety of small bites for free.
The three day event ends on Saturday, October 12 with a youth and community day with resources and activities for the whole family.
Next up is an Annual Fall Fest on October 19 at Tilton Park. It’s a joint effort by City Church of Wilmington, Cool Spring / Tilton Neighborhood Association, and West Side Grows and offers food, games and fun.
October wraps up with a Halloween Movie in the Park on October 25, at Connell Street Park. A costume parade will start at Fourth Street Park, and end at Connell with popcorn, candy and an as-yet-unannounced Halloween-themed movie.
And because October wasn’t busy enough, they’re having a dual kickoff on November 1. The neighborhood will enjoy extra attention due to two city-wide movements that will have a West Side focus: on Friday the first, the West Side Art Loop will ensure a cluster of small businesses are turned into art galleries that are in comfortable walking distance to each other; and, starting the same day and running through the 10th, the Wilmington “made” series hops over I-95 for West Side Made.
Made on Market was the first Made partnership with the Market Street area businesses and the Wilmington Alliance. Made events feature exclusive offers from local businesses aimed at highlighting the history and uniqueness of a business district. Each participating West Side location will feature specials or discounts that are locally focused. Participants include restaurants as well as Squeezebox Records, Teló Massage and the rug specialists at Kurtz Collection.
None of these events are executed in a vacuum.
Lester adds, “I'm excited most about our partnerships. We lean on our partner organizations, our community leaders, local business owners, and local government to work together to improve our neighborhoods, and it is a group that continues to grow.”
In a census tract where over 20% of the 12,000-plus residents live under the poverty level (although the number of people living in poverty saw some dip in the last decade), events and programs are more than welcome.
There are activities all year round, such as a Youth Spring Fling and a Youth Art Loop, as well as an MLK Peace Celebration and Parade. Cool Spring Farmer’s Market may be one of its most well known projects, starting in 2014.
From 2012 to 2017, West Side Grows hosted 450 events and activities for residents, and developed leadership skills in residents and business owners through programming.
It’s not just one big party scene, though.
They’ve planted 300 trees and created gardens on vacant properties. Several neighborhood parks have been renovated, and the 4th and Rodney Park’s usage increased by 200%.