Businesses in Annapolis compete with noise

Owners hope work on West Street doesn't drive away customers

April 23, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

On a recent morning, Greg Dibos put on his most soothing CD, a comforting mix of acoustic guitars, mandolins and drums that wafted through his music store on West Street in Annapolis.

But soothing melodies are no match for the overpowering bass of a front-end loader, a fact Dibos became painfully aware of as he sat in the entrance of his store, Acousticopia.

"It's not extremely pleasant when you have a jackhammer going on," Dibos said, watching a crew of men dig up West Street from across a newly erected, 6-foot-tall chain-link fence.

Dibos and other business owners will have to get used to it. Workers began tearing up the asphalt this week in the first block of West St., a busy row of restaurants and shops that sits just off Church Circle.

When the work is done in November, the new street and sidewalks will have red brick, just like Main Street does. Crews also plan to upgrade the water and sewer lines beneath the street. Business owners agree the stretch needs a face-lift.

But in the interim, they are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping the noise and construction don't drive away customers.

"You have to hope it doesn't have an effect," Dibos said.

The early indications, though, are that it might. Elizabeth G. Morrill, 56, a Roland Park resident who was visiting the city this week with her husband, Whitney, looked at the menus of several restaurants along West Street but decided to go elsewhere for lunch.

"It is bothersome," she said, before heading to State Circle a few blocks away.

Annapolis is home to state government and the Naval Academy, but it increasingly is known as a shopping and dining destination.

The first block of West St. doesn't draw as many visitors as Main Street, but a concert venue, an Irish bar and a pair of coffee shops have kept the streets buzzing at night.

Officials want to minimize the impact on local businesses, and both sides have been meeting for nearly a year about the $1.7 million project, which has required closing the street. Pedestrians can still walk on the sidewalk, though.

The contract included money for a worker whose only job is to help clean the site. Merchants are planning a number of events to keep drawing people, including outdoor music on the first Friday of every month beginning in May. The city is also giving merchants validating stamps for the nearby Gott's parking garage.

Workers began digging up the street Monday, rattling building windows and sending a hammerlike noise echoing through the narrow block. A deep trench extends down nearly 20 feet of the street, and a group of men has been busily sweeping away debris.

The most noticeable change is the chain-link fence around the work site, now crammed with construction equipment.

Some said the noise was no worse than honking horns and traffic sounds. Attorney William J. Colquhoun argued three trials Tuesday morning and was looking for a peaceful place for lunch, so he headed to the Rams Head Tavern on West Street. He even sat outside.

"It's quiet and out of the way," he said as he waited for his Rueben sandwich. "It's a nice day to be sitting outside, and there aren't any cars."

Almost all of the outside tables at the Rams Head were taken during lunch that day, and at least so far owner Bill Muehlhauser said he hasn't seen a drop in business.

"Yesterday was one of the strongest days we've had. If all days are like yesterday, I'd be very happy," Muehlhauser said.

And yet others say it's too early to tell what effect the construction might have. Business at Sean Donlon's Restaurant and Irish Bar has suffered slightly, probably because of construction, owner Pam Finlay said Wednesday.

"But the work has to be done and once people know they can come down here, things will be fine," Finlay said.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer also said she didn't think construction would hurt business too much. "People know that when you chose to live in an urban environment, things can get busy," she said.

As he munched on a fish sandwich at an outdoor table the other day, Jim Rogers, a 24-year-old consultant, said he didn't notice the construction. But he reserved the right to look for new lunch spots: "If the noise is too much of a problem, you'd have to consider looking elsewhere."

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