On East Monument Street, business in a hole

Three-month timeline for sinkhole repairs could have devastating implications, merchants say

August 11, 2012|By Colin Campbell, The Baltimore Sun

Kenneth Lyles, a barber at the Total Male on East Monument Street, described the devastating scene: a loud bang on the street that sounded like the passing tow truck had hit something and then a deep hole in the pavement opening quickly, peeling down away from the surface like Play-Doh.

"You couldn't see the bottom," he said. "It was a scary sight, man."

Lyles said he and others outside at the time told the truck driver to quickly keep driving. He said they rushed to both ends of the block between North Patterson Park Avenue and North Montford Avenue to divert traffic away from the widening trench.

City workers have now filled the July 25 sinkhole that caused the block to be evacuated. But that's small consolation for business owners who found out Thursday that their street could be closed for up to three months as engineers repair an 1800s-era storm drain below the surface.

Said Yakine, a manager at Kennedy Fried Chicken, visibly distressed as he heard the news, was worried that his restaurant would go out of business if the street was blocked off for such an extended period. Stepping out of the heat into his empty store Thursday afternoon, he described the deflating feeling of sitting behind the counter with no customers and watching the food go unsold and spoil.

"We throw a lot of food away," he said. "During [last month's] storm, we went three days with no electric; now this."

A spokeswoman for the city's Department of Public Works said in an email that the DPW is working "aggressively to get the area back to business" and is serving as the "point-of-contact between other city agencies and the merchants," by means of two community liaisons.

But Yakine, Lyles and Juan Aybar, who owns a convenience store on the street, said they'd received very little in the way of communication from the city.

"Nobody has come by," Lyles said. "We don't know what's going on. We're out there asking everybody else."

Tereina Thomas, one of the community liasons, said she's had difficulty getting in touch with all the different merchants because the city mainly deals with the property owners, not the businesses that lease the space. Since making phone calls proved unsuccessful due to downed lines, Thomas took to the street two days last week to make contact with the various merchants. She said Aybar's store, M.J. Deli Grocery, appeared to be closed and she had yet to visit Kennedy Fried Chicken or Total Male.

"When we first started this, no one was around," she said, and added that as more stores have reopened, she's been better able to spread the word on the repairs.

Her message to owners frazzled by the three-month timeline was simple — however painful it might be, the city plans to implement a long-term solution.

"If we fixed that one little portion, sure it'd be easy to open businesses right back up." Thomas said. "If we fix the one piece of pipe, it would be a patch job. We're trying to fix the entire line so it doesn't break again."

While Lyles fully realizes the seriousness of the situation and the need for a comprehensive repair, he, too, spoke grimly about the effect the closed street has had on business.

"I'll have 15 [customers] on a good day," he said, sitting in his barber's chair. "It's been extremely slow — not even half that. They should refund us. We need a big check."

After several minutes spent silently staring at the repair work, Yakine had a morbid prediction.

"They're going to kill Monument," he said. "Already, everybody is suffering, crying, business is down. They need to devote more workers to finish it fast."

The conversation over, Yakine picked up the phone to cancel a $500 shipment of frozen food he'd ordered only days before.



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