Construction disrupts East Main Street CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

April 26, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

The sounds of summer in Westminster: birds singing, children playing, and heavy equipment tearing up the street.

From now until about mid-autumn, residents and business people on East Main Street and the surrounding area will be dodging flaggers and construction workers as the State Highway Administration rebuilds the street.

Some businesses already are feeling the effects, even before the road has been totally closed.

"I've lost several hundred dollars a day in business," said Robert Lowry, owner of Cockey's Tavern. "At lunch, it's a matter of convenience. Customers have to get in and out quickly and can't spend a lot of time looking for a parking space."

Doug Widlake, owner of Kirby's Furniture on Green Street, said a good marketing campaign had increased his business more than 50 percent in the past eight weeks. Sales dropped to about $500 last week after state road crews put up the detour signs in his area.

"The signs they put up are real intimidating," he said. "People who are looking for a business see that and say, 'There's no way I'm driving into that war zone.' "

Some residents are becoming frustrated with the constantly moving detours as well.

"When I come home, I never know what way I can come," said Judy Watson, of 276 E. Main St. "I went up to the school to get my daughter and every way I tried to get back was a detour."

Parking also is a problem, she said. Residents must compete with businesses for spaces and, although there is parking in the rear, it is not enough for the five apartments in the building.

"Some days, you have to try and ride around to find a space," Ms. Watson said. "Then you have to go around to the back streets and park in a business lot until it clears out."

Joyce McKinley, who also lives at 276 E. Main, said the detour signs are not clear.

"When Main Street was closed up here [at Washington Road] for two weeks, the signs should have been closer to the road [closing]," she said. "People were coming up here and would have to do a U-turn because nobody could understand that Main Street was closed."

Yet several business owners have found a sense of humor and good advertising are helping them deal with the situation.

"We're considering lighting up [our advertising] with some humor," Mr. Widlake said. "We've thought about letting people know they're allowed past the barriers."

Karen Ringrose, manager of the Sheetz convenience store, and Warren Wheeler, owner of Wheeler Chrysler-Plymouth, said they've included in their advertising detour maps and announcements that they're still open.

"Business is better than it was in the beginning," said Ms. Ringrose. "It's not up to what it always has been, but it is better."

Other business owners also said they are holding their own during the construction.

"We have the back alley, so that's kind of the godsend," Mr. Wheeler said. "Surprisingly, it's the going pretty smooth the past two weeks."

Joe Munch, owner of Munch's Court Street Cafe, said most of his customers walk to the restaurant from the county courthouse and surrounding office buildings. Lost business from his regulars has been replaced by business from the construction workers, he said.

"So far, knock on wood, my business hasn't been affected at all," Mr. Munch said. "My loyal customers who drive here have been finding alleyways and back street parking to get to me.

"I've had customers say it took them eight minutes to drive down Main Street to get here, and I give them a double thank you for finding me."

Business owners also had several ideas -- from monitoring the situation to asking the construction crews to work at night -- to help them regain lost business.

"I think it would be a real enhancement if, once a week, there was a map of where construction was going to be for the next week to inform residents," Mr. Wheeler said.

Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works, said business owners and residents should call him at 848-9002 with questions or complaints.

Ron Ritz, of the State Highway Administration -- who managed the West Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue reconstruction projects -- can be contacted at 876-4503 with questions, Mr. Beyard said.

"People with specific problems should give us a call so we can work with the state to resolve them," he said.

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