Construction mess, long lines of traffic have some Annapolis merchants smiling Business has picked up as motorists notice stores

August 03, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

There is nowhere to park, long lines of traffic crawl by slowly outside and a huge construction site blocks almost any view of or access to Jim's Corner Restaurant in Annapolis.

But Liz and Bill Alexopulos, owners of the cubbyhole West Street diner that's been around since 1922, wouldn't have it any other way. Their business has been booming since May, when construction began on an $8 million traffic circle nearby at West Street and Taylor Avenue, they said.

"The construction in this area has affected our business tremendously -- for the better," a beaming Bill Alexopulos said as he flipped a burger on the grill. "We love these construction guys."

The same enthusiasm can be found at other businesses in the stretch of West Street and Spa Road near the construction -- a surprising phenomenon considering that many Main Street businesses closed when a renovation project there from 1995 to 1997 disrupted traffic and inconvenienced tourists and regular customers.

Steve Duckett said he was concerned initially about how construction of the traffic circle would affect Arundel Rug Cleaners Inc., his family-owned business that has been on Spa Road at West since 1946. Surprisingly, business has improved, he said.

"The way they have traffic rerouted, all of it's going in front of my door," Duckett said.

Next door at G&M Imports, sales manager John Broderick said his experience is much the same.

"July is such a dead month for the car business," Broderick said. "But when the traffic congests out there in front of us, people going by stop and look as they wait. Some of them come back and take a closer look at some of our cars. We've sold more this July than compared to last year."

City officials couldn't be happier to hear the news. The circle is a key project in the city's multimillion-dollar plan to revitalize a neglected and deteriorating seven-block stretch of inner West Street from Taylor Avenue to Church Circle, which is full of empty lots and empty stores.

Upon completion of the traffic circle in about two years, the city will renovate the rest of West Street's streetscape. New sidewalks, roads and lights will cost another $8 million.

"The traffic circle shows people the city is serious about turning around West Street," said Louise Hammond, a Democratic Ward 1 alderman who represents the area. "The city has made a $7.9 million investment. That demonstrates our interest here."

The plan seems to be working.

'An inconvenience'

West Street office buildings, once desperate for tenants, are about 95 percent filled. A $4.5 million office building is under construction, and other businesses are expanding. Plans also are in the works for an Irish pub and European-style inn to be established soon in the corridor.

But not everyone is thrilled.

"Right now, it's just an inconvenience," said Hazel Miles, 75, who lives at the corner of Taylor Avenue and Spa Road, where West Street traffic has been rerouted.

"The man who delivers my oxygen had to go four times around the block because he couldn't find a place to park," she said. "It's almost impossible to get a car out of the driveway."

Prabhasri Durasavin, owner of Papazee's Authentic Thai Cuisine, says he has worse problems. The restaurant, about a block from the construction site, has lost half its customers, he said. He opened the restaurant on the ground floor of an office building nine years ago.

"It's been very tough," he said. "Last night, we didn't have one customer sit down here. But I think when everything is done, it will be quite all right. Until then, I don't know how business will be."

Gasoline sales off

Gakes Hussein, a cashier at the Crown gas station a couple of blocks from the construction site, said sales are off because of the congestion along West Street. It's too difficult to stop and there's no lack of gas stations in other nearby areas, he said.

"Oh yeah, it's affected all our business," Hussein said. "Everything has slowed down."

Patience, advised Bill Alexopulos, the Jim's Corner owner, who has been waiting for the West Street transformation for some time.

He and his wife took over her father's business in 1956 and watched as mom-and-pop stores slowly died off or moved out when street-side parking disappeared along West Street years ago and strip malls were built in nearby Parole, across the city line in Anne Arundel County.

Jim's Corner, with its diner menu of pork chops, hamburgers and salads, relied on faithful customers to keep it going, he said.

"This whole area is going to be redeveloped," Alexopulos said on a break after the lunch-hour rush. "When that circle is done, it's going to enhance all the properties around here. Just wait and see."

Pub Date: 8/03/98

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