Increased police deployment on Market Street between Rodney Square and the Christina River during the past several months has helped create a more welcoming atmosphere, said some area business owners and visitors.
“They don’t have to be here every minute, but just knowing they’re around most of the time has changed behavior,” said Jack Buckley, who owns the Ninth Street Book Shop on the corner of Eighth and Market streets. “Things that can happen that are great deterrents to retail business are not really crimes, but just nuisance or behavior that people don’t like.”
Buckley said he’s noticed the increased police presence since last summer. He said he often sees officers two or three times a day, which he said has correlated with a decline in the amount of people damaging property near storefronts and engaging in behavior that has kept customers away.
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Mayor Dennis P. Williams ordered an increase in police deployment downtown last fall to tackle problems such as public urination and loitering. He and business leaders said those issues led to other crimes, such as burglary and assault.
The problems were compounded last October when three people were shot near a North Market Street shop in the pre-dawn hours. In a prior incident, a veteran running cross-country to raise awareness for other veterans was punched in the central business district.
But at least one business owner said Market Street has always been pretty safe.
“I think Market Street’s fine. The outskirts of Market Street are probably the worst parts, but they’re [talking about] Market Street because that’s where all the businesses are,” said Antony Farrace, whose family owns Levy’s Pawn Shop at Fifth and Market streets. “I think they’re just trying to put it out there so people come downtown.”
Buckley also noted other improvements, such as the installation of metal rings around some of the large flower pots lining the Market Street sidewalks. He said he has seen adults sit on the pots and destroy the flowers.
“It’s really things you should have learned from your mother that people out here don’t know sometimes,” Buckley said. “How to just get along, speak in a public voice and not scream and yell.”
The bookshop owner said he’s glad the additional deployments have been consistent.
“It does take time for people to notice, and to understand, ‘I can walk out here now, and it’s not uncomfortable,'” he said, “and that’s probably the word: people want to feel ‘comfortable.'”
At La Fia, a bistro and bakery that opened last summer at Fifth and Market streets, owner Andrea Sikora said she has experienced very few problems and sees the area as generally safe.
“I really don’t have a lot to compare it to because this is our first real full year of business,” she said. “Typically, we don’t have any problems. The streets are in great shape. We really don’t have any issues with panhandling or loitering. Every once in a while, but nothing chronic.”
Nikki Saxton, a Philadelphia resident, said she comes to Wilmington every other week to go shopping and dine. She said she has noticed a drop in panhandling.
“You got less people that beg for the most part,” she said. “I don’t mind giving, but you don’t come here just to give all the time. All of that kind of changed. That’s a good thing to just come out here and enjoy your day.”
Saxton said she likes Market Street because of the assortment of clothing stores, cosmetic retailers and restaurants. She said she enjoys parts of Wilmington more than Philadelphia because sections of the larger city have more panhandlers and drug activity.
“You’re constantly getting stopped for this and constantly getting stopped for that,” she said. “Whereas here, I can shop, I can walk, I can sit down. I can do all of that in peace.”
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