Downtown businesses feel pain of progress

Nathan Baker • Sep 18, 2013 at 4:16 PM

Downtown merchants are keeping their eyes on the prize of an updated and beautified Johnson City while suffering the lost business and delays of construction.

With more than a month left to go for a utilities upgrade project that closed the 400 block of South Roan Street to vehicle traffic, LaLonde’s Bridal Boutique owner Linda Fields said she realizes the need for the extensive work, but she’s looking forward to its end.

“The workers have been very courteous and are aware of safety, but having the street closed is affecting our business,” she said Tuesday as a back hoe clawed through asphalt just outside her display window.

Although the work crews erected a wire fence to protect sidewalk pedestrians, Fields said she opted to lock the store’s South Roan entrance and direct customers to the other access from the parking lot on West State of Franklin Road.

She said business has been down slightly since the trucks rolled in earlier this month, an effect she attributed to the loss of vehicle and foot traffic on the major thoroughfare.

On the other side of the street, in the ground floor of the King’s Centre, the Main Street Pizza Company’s outdoor bistro tables were moved from the Roan side to the Main Street sidewalk.

Bartender Bryan Breese said it’s hard to tell if there’s been a noticeable difference in the number of patrons since work began.

“It really varies,” he said. “It seemed slower than usual today, but yesterday it was quite busy. We’ve lost some traffic, but there’s still plenty of parking in the lot.”

Like Roan Street, drainage and crosswalk work shut down Buffalo Street near Fountain Square for weeks.

It is now open again, but is still subject to detours and lost parking spaces.

Mel Broyles, owner of Mel’s Stamps & Coins, said some of his older clientele were perturbed about the obstacles created by the construction.

“It chased a lot of them away, but I hope they’ll come back once the work is done,” he said. “Sometimes if people get out of the habit of coming by, they’ll just stop coming.”

Washington County Economic Development Council Redevelopment Director Shannon Castillo thanked all of the downtown employees and business owners for their patience during the work.

“We understand that it’s an inconvenience, because we work downtown too,” she said. “It’s been a real blessing that everyone has accepted the work down here as a necessity and are hanging in there with us.”

Castillo said the extensive work to improve water, sewer, electricity and communications lines and the sensors that control the nearby traffic signals will pay off for the businesses in the long run.

“It’s going to end up being a big asset for our current merchants and an even better asset when new businesses start coming in,” she said.

Despite the temporary inconvenience, Fields said she’s looking forward to the results of the work.

“Anything that will help us improve and revitalize our downtown area is fine with me,” she said. “It should really help to get people down here, for sure.”

Broyles echoed her views.

“I think it looks great,” he said of the renewed and re-watered Lady of the Fountain, which can be seen from his business’ door. “Once everything’s finished, I’m going to start advertising again and the customers should come back.”

Once the current projects are completed, the city plans to look at other downtown streets for improvements.

At a Johnson City Development Authority meeting last week, Public Works Department Director Phil Pindzola outlined the current streetscape plan, which includes improvements to and widened sidewalks on Main, Market and Commerce streets.

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