Merchants in the Gambrills business district used to be able to count on one thing: customers.
They'd stop by after work at Fort Meadeto buy milk and eggs at Jerman's IGA or pop in for a drink at Kaufmann's Tavern after a busy day of decoding at the National Security Agency.
But many people who used to run their errands at the local shops have stopped coming, complaining that road alternations by the State Highway Administration make Gambrills too hard to get to.
As part of its Route 32 overhaul, the SHA temporarily closed Gambrills Road where it used to intersect with Route 32. But next year, when a bridgeover Route 32 is opened, there will be no access to the thoroughfarelinking Gambrills to Glen Burnie.
That has local business owners upset. "All of us were under the impression that the state would provide access," said David Kaufmann, who owns the tavern that has stood near the intersection since 1937. "They didn't."
In two meetings with business owners this month, state officials agreed to put up signs on Route 32 and 175, directing people to Gambrills. The owners willtake the signs, but say it is not enough. Providing access, they say, would be easy.
The state counters that building another intersection at Gambrills Road would be unsafe because it is too close to theintersection of Route 32 and Route 3, as well as to an intersection now under construction at Burns Crossing Road.
"You get a conflictwith the weaving and accelerating," said Ernie Hodshon, assistant director of engineering for SHA. "It is too dangerous."
The new design is part of the state's $200 million reconstruction of Route 32, which will link U.S. 29 in Columbia with Interstate 97, a main highway between Baltimore and Annapolis.
Hodshon said the state will do everything it can to ease the impact of closing Gambrills Road. He saidpublic relations officials willgive business owners help in designing a brochure giving directions.
"They don't pay for printing, but they do the art work," he said. "They give them their expertise on how to promote their business. We are doing everything we can to help people out."
That could include installing a traffic signal at Gambrills Road and Route 175, he said.
But for people like Jerman, whose father opened the grocery as a general store in the late 1920s, the only help would be an interchange at Gambrills Road and Route 32. "My sales are down 25 percent," he said. "They are doing their business on the other side of Route 32. They aren't coming to Gambrills.
"One customer suggested I run an ad that says I would deliver groceries to anyone on that side of Route 32. That's how difficult it was for him to get over here. The older people know where the store is; they just don't like driving around to get to it. As far as the new customers, forget it."
Jerman says his store is being hit twice. The Route 32 project, designed to take traffic off Route 175, will decrease his customers; now the closing of the intersection will take the rest away. He said putting up signs "is like putting a Band-Aid over a broken leg."
Both Jerman and Kaufmann said they do not believe thestate's claims that another intersection would be unsafe, pointing to ramps off Route 50 in Annapolis and turn lanes on Route 3 in Gambrills. "They could do it," Jerman said. "There is no safety reason. They don't want to put it in."
Kaufmann, who employees 88 people at his restaurant, said the state is hurting small businesses that employlocal people and use local products. "In the way we each contribute to the community, they should provide access," he said.
Building the intersection, he said, "is not going to upset the residents. It's not going to upset the businesses. The general public wants access."