A portion of Main Street has been closed to traffic since March 22 between John and Cumberland streets. The work, which includes a sewer separation project and the construction of pedestrian bump-outs, is slated to continue until the end of May.
While the sidewalks are still open, many businesses located in the closed section have seen a notable decline in business since the work started.
From their window facing Main Street, the owners and staff of Bread and Olives have a direct view of the construction. But what the deli/bakery’s owner, Robert Leggett, would rather see is more customers.
The business, formerly located on Parade Street, opened at its 278 Main St. location in January. Business was brisk starting out, but since the section of Main Street was closed Leggett says business has taken a sharp drop.
“A lot of people don’t come,” he says, despite sidewalk access and the fact people can still park in the Brown Street parking lot or even behind Bread and Olives.
Leggett isn’t against the work that’s happening, he just wishes the public would remember that there are businesses that still depend on their support and continue to visit them. When you’re dealing with fresh offerings each day – things like paninis, fresh salads, quiches and desserts, along with other meals – you need a hungry clientele coming through the door.
At Hands on Crafts at 341 Main St. they’ve also noticed a drop in business.
“A definite decline. You just have to expect it when the people aren’t walking past and aren’t driving downtown,” says Len Burkitt, one of the operators of the business. “Hopefully the marvelous streetscaping will make up for it.”
Burkitt does say it is better that the work is happening now as opposed to later.
“It's probably the best time of the year that they could be doing it,” he says. “If we were stretching into the summer, we’d be more upset.”
Gator Bytes Computer and Entertainment is another business that’s seen fewer people coming through its door.
“Some days are still pretty normal. If it’s a nice day people don’t mind parking and walking in. But a rainy day, it’s almost dead,” says owner Chris Killam. “Good Friday we’re open. We usually do really well. This year since people couldn't drive by and see we were open, we did half of what we did last year.”
Killam says they continue to use Facebook to push new product coming into the store so potential customers are aware of what's new.
Also located in the closed section is the Salvation Army Thrift Store, which relies on donations from the public.
However, people are not as inclined to carry bags of donated goods along the sidewalk through a construction area with ‘street closed’ and ‘detour’ signs posted everywhere. Even some side-street access from John and Cliff streets is affected.
Salvation Army Captain Mike Mailman says these donations are important and they hope people will keep dropping them off. He says they don’t have an alternate drop-off setup elsewhere.
“All those donations, they get recycled one way or another. We try to get the most use out of them that we can,” says Mailman. “Those donations stay here first. We try and sell them in our store, or if somebody comes to us for help and they can’t afford the prices at the store we can help them out with those items as well. Any clothing items that we can’t use or don’t end up selling we end up sending them off, some go overseas and some go to other places. Very few things, compared to what we get, have to go to the landfill.”
Meanwhile, back at Bread and Olives, Leggett says when they made the move from Parade Street to Main Street it was all about being more visible and accessible.
“It was location, location, location,” he says, but as of late that hasn’t worked out. “At the moment there’s nobody here and we’re on a dirt track road.”