Downtown reviews vary Columbiana renovation project on schedule, merchants feel pinch

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Despite the appearance, Main Street in Columbiana is open for business with side and back entrances for potential customers.

R.E. Grills Construction Company reports it is working with the city the best way it knows how and hopes to have the main section of Main Street renovation complete in time for Christmas shopping.

However some merchants have reported a downturn in walk-in trade as a result of the renovation.

Designed by Gresham Smith and Partners, the $1.8 million project is being completed by R. E. Grills Construction Company Inc.

Susan Conn, owner of Main Street Florist, said she went to the first meeting between the city, merchants and the construction company and was told the downtown renovation would be carried out first, on one side of the street, then the other.

&uot;Our business is at a standstill,&uot; Conn said of the effect of the project. &uot;Had it not been for call-ins (customers), we would be in trouble.&uot;

Conn said she had one walk-in customer on Monday and a couple about a week ago.

She said, however, her business is open at the back.

Conn said she would have hoped that someone was checking the contractors to make sure they are pushing construction to the maximum.

She said there are days when there seems to be only one person working outside her shop and other days when there are three.

Conn said she has been told she would be lucky

if sidewalks are in by November.

She said she’s also been disappointed with the city’s actions.

&uot;Not one city official has been in our shop to say, how’s business?&uot; she said.

Conn also said a waterline was broken just this past Monday, and no one came by to inform the shop that the water was going to be cut off.

She said her shop was without water for about two hours.

Conn said in the end she knows the street and downtown will look better, but she said that is &uot;provided the businesses get to stay around.&uot;

Marie Cox, co-owner of Columbiana Jewelers with her husband Travis, said her business has a side door.

&uot;I think our drop-in customers have really slacked off,&uot; she said.

While Cox said people who know what they want come right on in, she said other people

are too lazy to walk around. She included herself in the second group.

Cox said she also thought one side of the street would be completed before the other, indicating that she thought her side of the street would be first and then the other.

However, she said she really has &uot;no complaint&uot; as to the order of completion.

She said it would be no more fair for her section of street to be completed before the section with law offices, courthouse and beauty shops, she said.

Cox said her only complaint would be if they don’t get it completed soon, &uot;because we have a lot of drop-in business for Christmas.&uot;

Rux Bentley of Rux Carter Insurance Agency reported his business has not seen much of the effects of the renovation project.

&uot;Our business has not been affected much because we don’t have a lot of walk-in business,&uot; Bentley said.

He said his agency’s customers are as comfortable coming in the back as the front.

Bentley said he attended the last meeting on downtown renovation, indicating the contractor &uot;did say&uot; they could shut down both sections of the street at one time if they needed to.

He went on to say, &uot;Nothing the contractor has done has really surprised me except that I would have expected more people out there working.&uot;

Charles Vacarella of Bernie

& Charlie’s Restaurant said the project has been detrimental to his business.

&uot;Our walk-in business is way off,&uot; he said.

&uot;Basically, we’re getting phone calls from people who don’t even know we’re open and want to know when we we’re going to reopen.&uot;

Vacarella said he was told that one side of Main Street would be done from the courthouse to the end of the block, then the next and that work would be completed before moving to the next block.

He said signs were erected saying that Main Street was open for business, but when the next street was torn up, view of the signs was blocked.

Vacarella also said that signs, placed by the city, at the back of his business have people confused thinking they cannot park there.

While Vacarella said he could have missed it, no one ever told him that the whole street could be torn up before the project was finished.

He understood the project would be finished in three sections.

Vacarella went on to say he approves of the city’s progress; however, he said the city needs to help keep its current businesses at the same time.

He also expressed concern about the low numbers of employees on the job of downtown renovation.

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe said following a progress meeting on Thursday, the downtown project is right on schedule.

Grills’ officials agree.

&uot;We are still working to get

that main section open for Christmas shopping,&uot; said David Nooney, president of R.E. Grills Construction Company Inc.

&uot;We are working closely with the mayor and engineers to keep any problems that arise so we can handle them on a weekly basis, so we can keep moving.

&uot;We believe we are on schedule, and we are working with them the best we know how,&uot; Nooney said.

He indicated the company is

working on the project in a confined two block area which makes it difficult to work too many people.

However, he said, once the project reaches the hardscape (curb, gutters etc.), it will move more quickly.

Lowe said changes in the way the project is being completed came about after merchants expressed a desire that everything be done at once to get it over quicker.

He said the contractor always had the right to close the entire street at once.

The mayor said he called merchants himself (though not all of them) and when he received a majority in agreement, he made the decision to proceed all at once.

&uot;They’re not moving as quick as I would like,&uot; Lowe said. But, he said, &uot;I certainly understand it.

&uot;They’re doing it right and the way we will never have to worry about it again,&uot; he said.

&uot;These headaches we are having will be forgotten with the end product.&uot;