WR businesses weather construction on N.M. 4

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Economy: Some see benefits from crew traffic

By Arin McKenna

With improvements on N.M. 4 well underway, orange barrels, heavy equipment and torn up pavement form an intimidating barrier between prospective customers and a number of White Rock businesses. Despite the inhospitable environment, however, White Rock businesses are holding their own.

A few have even reaped unexpected rewards from the construction activity.

“It’s going as well as can be expected. All the businesses throughout a community suffer from any construction,” said Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation (LACDC) Member Services Coordinator Katy Korkos. “But specific problems are being addressed on a weekly basis.”

Convenience stores and Time Out Pizza have actually noticed an increase in business from construction worker traffic.

“We thought this was going to hurt our business, but it’s actually helping out our breakfast business,” Time Out owner Omar Sanchez said. “We’re getting some business from construction crews, and motorists are also calling ahead to place their order then picking it up at the drive through.”

Sanchez expects even more drive through traffic when he and his wife Trisha launch an expanded ice cream menu with various confections and shakes.

The Hampton Inn also has seen a bump in business from construction workers lodging at the hotel. General Manager Nancy Chavez said they have not lost any of their normal business, either, and no guests have complained about the construction.

“They’re keeping us well aware of what’s going on in any week,” Chavez said.

On the flip side, Bandelier Grill is not faring as well. Megan Liu, who is currently overseeing the restaurant for her mother, Xiaoxi Wu, reports that business is down from last year.

Construction closures of Sherwood Boulevard during lunch hour have had the biggest impact on the eatery. Liu has addressed the issue with the county and the contractor, Mountain States Constructors, Inc., and believes the problem is resolved. The grill also has alternate routes posted on their website.

“If specific problems come up for businesses, we’re doing our best to address them right away,” Council Chair Sharon Stover said.

Like most of the affected business owners, Liu feels the payoff will be worth the aggravation. “We’re optimistic about where this is headed,” Liu said. “And we’re thankful for our local customers who have stuck with us during this difficult time.”

Metzger’s Hardware General Manager David Jolley expressed a similar viewpoint. “We’re eager to get this over with, but we’re also anxious to see what it looks like. I think it will be a vast improvement.”

Jolley said getting in and out of the White Rock business district is generally difficult, and left turns are virtually impossible in the afternoon. He believes most customers are using alternate routes for access. Jolley does not believe residents have opted to shop at other venues.

“If it’s something they don’t need to have right now, they’re probably putting it off,” Jolley said, “But I think most customers are staying loyal.”

Dan Saxton, store manager for the White Rock Metzger’s, agreed. “Our business is down somewhat, but it’s not extreme,” Saxton said. “They can get to us other ways. Our business is more affected by weather than construction.” Last weekend’s warm weather brought in more business than the hardware retailer has seen all year.

Some businesses have noticed little impact in either direction.

“My clientele are not people who see us as they drive by. They’ve made provisions to meet here beforehand,” David Jones said. Jones is steward of The Hive.

“They change the entrances occasionally,” Jones said. “But I’ve been very impressed with the courtesy and effort Mountain States Constructors is making to deal with the impact. They’re doing an admirable job of trying to accommodate businesses.”

Los Alamos County Engineer/Traffic Engineer Kyle Zimmerman hosts an Open Hour at Time Out Pizza (118 State Rd. 4) from 11 p.m.– noon every Tuesday to address questions and concerns from business owners and residents.
LACDC met with White Rock business owners this week to find out how they could make the process go more smoothly.

Korkos, who is also vice-chair of the White Rock Master Plan Implementation Committee, explained to owners what the N.M.4 project will accomplish. “It’s a pet peeve of mine that we bring people in and out of White Rock on a two-lane road then widen the road through town. Why have them speed up in town and not stop at our businesses?” Korkos said.

“This will be safer and more attractive, and slowing down traffic a bit should be a catalyst for local businesses. It’s going to improve access and give better visibility to businesses. The landscaping will let people know they’re actually someplace. There will be safe left turn and right turn lanes, and safe pedestrian crossings.”

Knowing the goals reassured people like Jones. “I was concerned that money was being spent on a road that didn’t appear to need a lot of work. But the end result will be worth the inconvenience.”

Korkos anticipates the launch of the Bandelier shuttles on June 1 will help increase traffic flow to businesses. Drivers will be trained to give a tour of the town site as they pass through it.

Zimmerman said paving on the south side of the highway should begin no later than April 19. Once that is completed, construction will move to the north side of the road. The project is contracted for completion by the end of September, with an addiitional 30 days for Mountain States to address any issues raised during the inspection.

“If residents are interested in business vitality in White Rock, now is a great time for people to pay extra attention to supporting White Rock businesses,” LACDC Executive Director Kevin Holsapple said.

“Many people naturally avoid construction zones, and that can be very difficult on the adjacent businesses. It is an important time to be patronizing these businesses and encouraging others to patronize them.”