Businesses on Main Street in Ellicott City are breathing a sigh of relief as the holiday shopping season approaches.
Merchants said last week's conclusion to the paving of the busy and narrow roadway in the historic mill town was a much-anticipated end to construction headaches.
"I'm glad that construction is wrapping up, and many [merchants] are looking forward to moving on and getting back to normal life," said Sarah Tannenbaum, vice president of the Ellicott City Business Association. "We are moving forward and looking forward to a good holiday season."
The conclusion of scheduled construction on Main Street comes several weeks before the 28th Midnight Merriment. The Dec. 2 event marks the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season for Main Street merchants. Shops will stay open until midnight.
John R. Bassett, owner of Carpe Vinum, a fine-wines store on Main Street, said that the end of construction will free up more parking spaces for the event, which draws hundreds of shoppers and visitors.
"The roads are clear, and now we can't use construction as an excuse for not having a good time," he added.
The recent much-needed repairs to the roads in the business section of Main Street and some connecting roadways are separate from the $288,000 water and storm drain improvements project that began in April.
During the improvements project, workers replaced the out-of-date water pipes that ran under the roadway. County officials said the old water main was not large enough to handle an increased demand with water sprinklers added to renovated businesses in the area.
The project faced setbacks, county officials said, because of unmarked utility wires, pipes and gas lines that crews stumbled upon.
Other obstacles included thick concrete under the pavement and corroded pipes that leaked, forcing work crews to stop construction to repair them. The project ended Aug. 25, about a month later than scheduled.
During the water and drain project, Main Street merchants complained about water leaks that damaged a few stores. The lament was added to the list of closed streets and parking nightmares that diminished sales, many said.
"It was like the never-ending saga," said Karen Serio, a manager at Crystal Underground Shop, a boutique on Main Street.
Serio said customers did not want to come to the business district.
"It was like a war zone - there were cones everywhere, and you just could not go up and down the sidewalk with all these pipes everywhere," she said.
Mark Hemmis, owner of Phoenix Emporium, said he was shocked by how quickly the paving project was completed after the months of water problems.
"I was just flabbergasted by that after it took them months to do the water lines," he said.
He added: "The crew that came out and did this paving job was fantastic."
But the paving job did not come without a hitch for Hemmis.
On Halloween night, paving crews closed parts of Main Street and the bar was not as full as previous Halloween bashes, Hemmis said.
But he was not upset.
"I would rather have that happen than have them drag that project out," he said. "As I have said, it was something that had to be done and it was not going to be convenient for anybody."
Paving on Old Columbia Pike, which connects to the Main Street business area, will conclude tomorrow if weather conditions are good, said William F. Malone Jr., chief of Howard County's traffic division.