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Construction for the Central Avenue Project has hit local businesses hard, and the losses are mounting. CB Fox’s sales are down 10 percent, the Manhattan Project is down 30 percent and Ruby K’s foot traffic has dropped 25 percent in July and 35 percent to date in August. Now owners are assessing plans for getting through the winter.
“I would say that the locals have been outstanding, and have supported us in droves,” said CB Fox General Manager Andy Fox.
“But the problem is that this is July and August, and when we rely very heavily on tourism. So only a small fraction of our regular tourist shoppers have been able to find us and get into our store. So we are hurting from lack of tourist traffic in our most important tourist season, July and August.”
Fox has had to reduce hours for part time employees and cut back on purchasing. He called the 10 percent drop “a ton of money. We won’t recover from that this year.”
Ruby Alexander, owner of Ruby K’s, has also had to reduce employee hours.
“It’s hurt our staff, trying to make house payments and pay bills, but I’ve had to cut hours because I was overstaffed for the number of people coming in the door,” Alexander said.
As of today, Alexander is also closing at 4 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. The restaurant has been especially hard hit in the afternoon and evening hours, sometimes only seeing two or three people after lunch.
“I think the hard part to swallow is that summer is the time for me to bulk up for the winter months. Throughout the industry, winter is a slower time, so you try to bulk up in the summer,” Alexander said.
“I’m hopeful we get a lot of balloon traffic in October so I can rally a little, but it still won’t get us through the winter. I’ll have to come up with some alternative plans.”
For Ruby K’s, the reduced parking may be having the greatest impact. For the Manhattan Project, the construction itself is hurting business.
“I had two tables get up and leave today because they didn’t want to deal with the noise, because they were jackhammering or compacting right outside of our front window. So that in itself is probably a loss of at least $60 to $70 just from those two tables,” Manager Ashley Stothard said.
“People don’t want to sit by the windows and watch them do construction. Little kids love it. but it’s not the nicest thing to sit and have lunch and have to listen to large equipment backing up and compacting and digging.”
The sidewalk closures have also had a major impact. Until recently, when county staff asked contractors to open a pedestrian crossing at Central Park Square, the only cross walks were between Starbuck’s and the post office or at 15th Street. The south side of the street was also reduced to a narrow walkway.
“The biggest problem is that we should be getting a lot of tourist trade, but they don’t know how to find us. Even some locals don’t know about the back door,” said owner Victor Medina, referring to access to Central Avenue businesses from Deacon Street. “We’re struggling to survive, doing everything we can to make that happen.”
At least the sidewalk impediment will ease up by the weekend. Crews laid down 50 feet of concrete on Thursday and anticipate completing another 20 feet on Friday so the newly reconstructed sidewalk is open to pedestrians.
“By tomorrow, you’ll see a big improvement in what we’ve placed this week,” Project Manager Ernesto Gallegos said.
Businesses suffered another blow when crews cut the Comcast cable.
“For about 24 hours, we had no internet services, so we couldn’t run our credit card machines. We had no telephone service, so we couldn’t take phone orders or reservations. And that basically took us down completely,” Stothard said.
Because crews had reburied the cut cable without notifying anyone, it took Comcast crews working most of the night approximately 24 hours to find and fix the problem.
According to Rose Nyenhuis, co-owner of Fusion Multisport, the north side of Central has not been impacted quite so hard, although that could change when the focus shifts to that side of the street. The saving grace is that those businesses have a raised walkway that will be unaffected.
“We’re still finding that people are seeking us out and coming in when they have bike needs or need running shoes,” Nyenhuis said. “And then we do still see the occasional shopper that’s walking around and browsing downtown, even though it’s a mess.”
Nyenhuis is grateful for the community support they have received.
“There’s a sense that the community is trying to help us out. They just all come out to say, ‘Are you OK?’ A lot of our customers come out and say, ‘I’m just going to buy a pair of socks. While I’m here, let’s see what you have.’” Nyenhuis said.
“So that’s really, really sweet, that we just have so many concerned customers that are just really getting behind us. They don’t want us to be hurting so bad during this time. Great town we live in.”
Many of the business owners are questioning the county’s planning.
“The thing that upsets me the most is that the county doing this project at the same time they had Trinity closed, which threw our summer into a tailspin. Then going to Central closed just perpetuated the problem,” Fox said, wondering why the county did not start the project at Oppenheimer so the Central Avenue businesses would not have been so impacted during the tourist season.
“The stakeholders along that street would like to meet with the highest county officials and try to learn something from all this so as to create a matrix of possible questions, possible outcomes, possible interruptive issues that is so complete that it will force the county —and the county council, which has to approve these kinds of things —to thoroughly vet what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen before any project is commenced,” said Andy’s father Dave, who co-owns the business with his wife Anne.
“Among other things, there needs to be in this list of things that need to be considered before any project is begun or approved, there needs to be what I call a go/no go button that is in the process somewhere.
“By that I mean that if a project that was scheduled to get started in early spring winds up being delayed so much by the many kinds of things that can occur, and did, then it will force a meeting with all stakeholders, and the county and the contractor to decide whether it is appropriate to proceed or reschedule it for the same time in the following year.”
According to Public Works Director Philo Shelton, the plan to start with the eastern end road first was never questioned during public meetings. He said the decision to start there was driven by the need to have the quickest progression of work in the most important area.
“When we get later in the fall, there are a lot of delays due to temperature issues and weather. When you start getting into October and November time frames, it gets really questionable on the quality of workmanship,” Shelton said. “We want to obviously have the downtown looking its best. And when you’ve got a short summer season, that’s what we had.”
The county did write a $30,000 incentive into the contract for finishing the project on time. The current phase is scheduled for completion by Sept. 30, with an Oct. 31 deadline for the stretch between 20th Street and Oppenheimer Drive.