By Jerry duPhily
Before there was Wilmington Alliance.
And before there was Main Street Wilmington or Downtown Visions.
And even before there was Wilmington Renaissance or Wilmington 2000, there was the Downtown Business Association (DBA). The DBA’s mission was to provide a voice in city affairs for small downtown Wilmington businesses. In other words, the organization strove to ensure that the concerns of family enterprises such as Minster’s Jewelers, Wright & Simon and Leo & Jimmy’s were heard as clearly as the concerns of major employers like DuPont and MBNA.
It was a worthwhile organization.
From 1996 until the early 2000s, I served as president of the DBA. And in 2002, as we were naming three new members to the board, I began engaging regularly with the one-and-only Will Minster. A true champion of Wilmington, Will died last month at age 64.
Minster was a master jeweler in a fourth-generation family jewelry business. The enterprise began in 1895 when Jacob John Minster purchased a jewelry store from Wilmington watchmaker William Alrich.
Will’s store was located at 913 N. Market St., but at one point the Minster family had four locations in the area. The most established location was in the Newark Shopping Center. For most of its recent history, it was run by Will’s mother, Marilyn, a leader in Newark’s small-business community. Minster’s Newark closed in 2018 after a 123-year run.
Though Will was new to the DBA board, he was not new to me. His store was an advertiser, and he was a regular at DBA endeavors and other city functions. In my brief interactions, I could tell Will was a downtown businessman looking to get engaged. And as DBA president, I was eager to find owners of small city businesses looking to engage.
The DBA proved Will’s launching pad. He went on to succeed me as DBA president. And while our styles were as different as beer and bourbon, I knew Will was a better fit for president of this organization. He was a passionate, well-informed Downtown retailer; he knew the challenges facing Downtown merchants as well as anyone.
Will made sure city administrators, corporate leaders and non-profit executive directors knew as well. He was outspoken. Sometimes confrontational. But it was an approach driven by passion. Will was determined that his concerns — often the concerns of many small city businesses — not be ignored.
Will was a founding member of Main Street Wilmington in 2007, and when he closed his Market Street jewelry store in 2010, he devoted his full-time attention to improving Downtown. He served as program manager for Main Street Wilmington, became director of business development under Downtown Visions, helped launch the city’s façade-improvement program, and most recently served as director of The Launcher Program at West End Neighborhood House.
The last line of Will’s LinkedIn bio reads: “I love Wilmington and will always offer my skills to help.”
I witnessed Will Minster in action for the past 25 years. He lived up to that promise.