By Heather Lee Gordy
After World War II, Castle Street was at its prime. Businesses were growing and the list of shops was never ending. Castle Street was downtown. Not separate, but a part of downtown. There was a fire department, a pharmacy, a grocery store, a barber shop, a bakery, a bicycle shop, a radio shop, department stores, retail shops, and more.
Somewhere along the 70s and 80s Castle Street began to lose businesses, and as a result, its feel of unity among Wilmington and the community diminished. The community has been working over the years to revive Castle Street to what the merchant-filled street once was, and their hard-working efforts are not going unnoticed. While renovating some of the old historical buildings, and also building a few new ones in between, Castle Street continues to grow, becoming known as the Arts and Antique District of Wilmington.
You may be familiar with the location of the old fire department on the corner of 5th and Castle Streets with its door now painted bright red. This 101 year old building, constructed in 1915 when the use of horse-drawn fire engines were still in use, still reads “Engine Co. No. 2” stamped across the door. The fire station served Wilmington for more than 40 years until they moved to a new headquarter building in 1956. Meg Caswell bought the building a little over a year ago. The first floor of the old fire department is now a design shop while the top floor has been renovated by Terry Espy into a bed and breakfast.
When Meg first made plans to open the home store, she told Wilmington Biz, “I believe this neighborhood has a lot to offer. I wanted to be part of a community of other shop owners who are also creative and like-minded. I want to strengthen that area of Wilmington because I think it has a lot of potential.”
Meg is right about Castle Street having a lot of potential, just as Wilmington has already experience in it’s past.
Another local familiarity is the famous Hall’s Drug store, which came into the works of Castle Street in 1902 when James M. Hall bought the former W.H. Green & Co. drug store at the northeast corner of Fifth and Castle. He later moved the business across the street to the brick building most locals remember as the original Hall’s Drug Store, located across the street from the old fire department. The business stayed in the Hall family until it closed in 1974. The building opened as Rx Restaurant in 2012, and the letters reading Hall’s Drug Store are still shown on its surface.
On the next block stands a 115 year old church that recently opened this past summer as a new yoga studio. The studio is called Terra Sol Sanctuary and was brought to Castle Street by Jackie DeConti, Alexis Abbate, and Becca Niamtu. The Castle Street community was excited to welcome the new yoga studio and is hoping it will drive more potential residents to greet Castle Street as a shopping district.
Along that same block are a few antique shops, one of which is Michael Moore Antiques owned by Michael Moore. According to Michael, the building in which his shop lays was once a bicycle production and repair shop. Michael moved his shop from Front Street to Castle Street in 2004 and was able to persuade others to also relocate their shops. Being a part of the Castle Street Association, he was a proprietor who saw the potential of Castle Street early on. He wanted to help form an art and antique district that could captivate the arts of Wilmington and continue to grow. He favored the wide street and found Castle Street to be more communal. Michael was one of the first to open a shop on Castle Street again even though there hadn’t been any new openings along the street in years.
The building to the right of Michael Moore Antiques belongs to the well-known artist, Dan Beck. Dan, along with his wife and two daughters, moved from Colorado a few years ago and found home in Wilmington, NC. Dan purchased the building in and opened a gallery for his artwork in 2014. He was also able to make space for a studio in the back, and now Castle Street is the place where this artist works and creates.
Also along this block is a new antique shop that just opened the first of this month replacing what was called Castle Corner Antiques. The new shop is called Gold Leaf Antiques, and is a branch of Roger Taylor’s Gold Leaf Antique Market located in Mullins, South Carolina. Roger said he has done business in Wilmington for years, and various dealers would often come to his shop in South Carolina looking for new antique pieces. Roger also has ancestors who lived and prospered in Wilmington for years. He is constantly in and out of Wilmington, and is happy to add something of his own to this area.
Another block up, you find a collection of shops that each add a unique, creative touch to the expanding Arts and Antique District. Luna Cafeè, a coffee shop on the corner of 6th and Castle Streets, just celebrated their 3rd year of being open last September. Owners, Will and Nina Chacon, weren’t originally planning on opening a coffee shop when they were looking for retail space, but when they came across Castle Street and was introduced to the available building, they saw an opportunity for more possibilities. They liked the idea of contributing to a historical, but reviving area. Will and Nina both mentioned that Castle Street has been community oriented and everybody tries to help out in bringing the businesses together.
Just a couple buildings down from Luna Cafeè, is a newly constructed apartment building called Urban Oasis, but below these apartments is a hidden pop culture gem called Whatever… Wilmington. Owner, Kenyata Sullivan, has called it a “pop culture curiosity shop.” Kenyata opened the shop last April and it has only gained popularity since. What started as an eBay business, has expanded into this incredible antique/pop-cultural shop that also has a somewhat feel of a museum. Kenyata chose Castle Street because he found it unique, and it also felt like downtown before things got too busy.
Castle Street is making progress, and the community and businesses are both putting in their best efforts to help the street rise again. Other businesses contributing to Caste Street are: Moss Barber Shop, Lady’s Hair Design, Elsewhere Salon, Wilmington Wine, Gravity Records, Jester’s Java, Second Skin Vintage, Vintage Values, and more. There are big hopes for the future of Castle Street, and the progress of rebirth has already begun.