As irritating as road construction can be for drivers, it can be harder on businesses.
Better roads and sidewalks boost economic development in the long run, but a current project that has torn up two blocks of Hermiston Avenue shows that progress can come with a heavy price in the short term.
“It’s really impacted business because people avoid construction,” said Jackie Koppany of Feelingstone Rock & Bead Shop, gesturing out the front window at heavy machinery and piles of broken asphalt. “I think people look at this and say, ‘No thank you.’”
Koppany is one of several businesses with storefronts between Southwest First and Southwest Third streets on Hermiston Avenue. The stretch of road, torn up last week, is expected to stay closed until the end of September for a complete overhaul of street and sidewalk. The city’s water department also took advantage of the project to get in and install new water valves.
All of the businesses remain open, and many have side or back entrances for customers parking in the back. But Koppany said it’s hard for casual shoppers to figure out how to get in, causing traffic through her front door to be “slower than crap.”
“I’m making another sandwich sign,” she said. “I put a sign on my truck saying we’re still open. I’m doing everything I can to let people know.”
Since U.S.A. Subs doesn’t have a back or side entrance, people must walk out onto a dirt path along the side of the building. On Monday around lunch time, a couple of customers hovered at the side, unsure of whether they were allowed to step onto the construction site. One family asked a nearby worker how to get in.
Cindy Littlefield of U.S.A. Subs said business has still been steady, however.
“Most people think it’s worth it,” she said.
The restaurant has started allowing customers to call in orders and have staff run it out to their car in the back parking lot so they don’t have to walk through the dirt to pick it up.
The parking lot service has been so popular that she said they will probably continue it after the road is put back together.
“Sometimes when you have to think outside the box, it’s good,” she said.
Littlefield had no complaints about the city or contractors, who she said had been great about communicating every step of the way. The old sidewalk outside the building was a “wreck,” she said, so it was worth the hassle to get a new one.
Last week, the city posted a plea to Facebook, asking people to make an effort to visit businesses reporting lower customer counts during construction.
“These are your friends and neighbors who sponsor your Little League teams and put up your fundraising flyers in their windows, among the many other great things they do for our community,” the post said. “There is lots of parking available behind most of the businesses and on side-streets, so please take the few extra steps to drop in and thank them for what they do for our community by shopping in their stores, because they ARE OPEN.”
Holly Keller, cutting hair at the Styling Arena Monday morning, said they were still seeing customers make appointments and use their side entrance off Southwest Second Street.
“People still need their hair done,” she said.
Kaylee Field, a sales associate for Walker’s Furniture, said that the company’s buildings on either side of the street are still open, and fortunately most customers are figuring out how to go down back streets and park.
Corporate is allowing the Hermiston location to offer additional sales not available at any other Walker’s locations right now in order to help customers overcome their desire to avoid construction.
“That’s keeping our business pretty busy,” she said. “Hopefully we get through it.”