Wilmington Retail Study: Sell Local, Sell Experience

January 20, 2019

WILMINGTON -- An in-depth market study of a portion of the Route 38 corridor in town may spur impactful changes in economic development.

The study, which began last July, focuses on the area between Richmond and Clark streets along Main Street, and was completed in conjunction with the UMass Donahue Institute.

Branner Stewart, senior research manager at the UMass Donahue Institute, presented the findings of the 22-page report at a recent Board of Selectmen’s meeting.

While Wilmington has seen a significant growth in population between 2010 and 2017, the study showed that the retail market is underserved. Some of the sectors targeted for expansion in the study are clothing stores, specialty food stores, sporting goods, drinking places, restaurants and more.

“It’s the type of retail that a lot of people are seeking,” Stewart said.

Wilmington faces a number of challenges in the area of economic development, including high property taxes and the structural changes in retail.

“Basically, because of the advent of e-commerce, which first started 25 years ago, it’s kind of unhinged the way that people buy things, not only in Wilmington, but everywhere,” Stewart said. “But that said, there is still a place for bricks and motor.”

Among the recommendations outlined in the study, Stewart said Wilmington should consider the creation of locally owned eateries over chains. Recently, the Sonic, Chili’s and Walgreens in town closed.

Encouraging experiential retail, which includes cooking classes, wine tastings, bakeries, local breweries and more, was also a recommendation. The report states that there is a strong interest in fitness business that focus on one area of exercise, like yoga, spinning or boxing, over the traditional gym setup.

“These are all the types of places that the internet cannot replace and they’re all the types of activity that also can create a stronger sense of community,” Stewart said.

A bylaw change may also help attract business in the area, according to Stewart. As it stands, developers require a special permit for the uses that the study targets as areas the town can grow. Stewart said creating a by right zoning bylaw may attract more business.

“Right now, Wilmington has a special permit process,” Stewart said. “But for prospective businesses, retailers and restaurants, there’s a connotation that that can be time consuming with multiple meetings.”

Selectman Greg Bendel said he also liked the prospect of creating a comprehensive vision for the town in terms of economic development.

That night, the board also unanimously approved the formation on an Economic Development Committee. Bendel added that the committee can dive into the information revealed in the study. The creation of such a committee, which is already established in a number of neighboring towns, including Tewksbury, is aimed to help the town plan for future development and economic growth.

The Economic Development Committee, as described by Town Manager Jeff Hull, would include seven members: a selectmen, the town manager, the director of Planning and Conservation, three representatives from the business community and one representative from the community at large.

“I think it’s important when establishing a committee like this that it have a specific purpose,” Hull said.

Hull’s proposed priorities for the committee included developing an understanding of what economic development means to Wilmington residents, identifying what the town’s strengths and challenges are in the area of economic development, communicating with the Wilmington/Tewksbury Chamber of Commerce and more.

Bendel said he would be willing to represent the board on the committee. Hull will be pursuing appointing the remaining members to the Economic Development Committee.

The full market study is available for review online at www.wilmingtonma.gov/planning-conservation .

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.