Could the DuPont Building become the hippest spot in town?

Wilmington is about to join the food hall trend. Some cool brands are rumored to be involved.

The Dupont Building, before the renovations, overlooking Rodney Square (Photo by Flickr user Mark Goebel, used under a Creative Commons license)

The DuPont Building at 1007 N. Market St. has been a lot of things in its 110 years of existence. It’s a historical landmark, a symbol of early 20th-century economic prosperity, a posh tourist destination. Overlooking Rodney Square in the center of Wilmington, it was a brick-and-mortar reminder that DuPont was the heart of Delaware.
But it was never really cool. Sure, you could catch a touring production of Kinky Boots at The Playhouse on Rodney Square or have afternoon tea in the opulent Green Room at the Hotel du Pont, but it’s so heavily connected to its legendary chemical corporate roots — and the merger that would break the DuPont spell in Delaware — that it might seem like little more than a relic.
When the Buccini/Pollin Group announced the purchase of the DuPont Building last April, it was clear it had no intention of letting the building flounder. There would be residences, an upgraded Playhouse and, in the first floor area facing Orange Street, a food market inspired by the trendy food halls in New York and San Francisco.
We won’t know which businesses will be involved with the new food hall — like a mall food court but way cooler, featuring small, local and regional food and beverage businesses — for another month or two. If successful food hall businesses in other cities are any indication, we can expect vendors offering grab-and-go items that don’t require much equipment to prepare on site — things like sushi, gourmet sandwiches, fresh beverages and ice cream.
At least one Philadelphia business we know has been courted, which suggests that the project will give some popular bigger city food businesses a Wilmington satellite that is cheaper and ostensibly easier to maintain than opening a storefront.
It would be cool to have a few popular Philly food stalls downtown — but if the food hall is all or primarily businesses based in other cities, it will be missing out on a trend that, in Wilmington, may be bigger than the food hall trend itself: hyperlocal everything.
Delaware culture is about being proud of your town and all it offers (even when outsiders think it doesn’t offer much). We want ice cream from cows milked in Newark, beer made with Delaware-foraged herbs and locally-blended tea.
Wilmington didn’t have a Starbucks until 2014. And people still wonder why we even need Starbucks when we have our own (far superior, if you ask a Delawarean) Brew Haha.
In any event, a space like this does have the potential to rack up some cool points for downtown Wilmington. For so long, projects like these have been focused on the Riverfront. The Riverfront Market — the closest thing the city has to a food hall — is great, but it’s time for more of these projects to come downtown and bring it into the 21st century.

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