April showers may bring May flowers, but the downside is that they also extend the amount of time North Mantua Street businesses must deal with decreased patronage as motorists weave between orange barrels.
Lane reductions on North Mantua Street, (aka S.R. 43), started April 4 for what was supposed to be a three-week work period. However, Mother Nature intervened.
Kent City Engineer Jim Bowling said Friday that "an ungodly amount of rain in that three-week period" has caused construction delays that will keep those North Mantua Street barrels in place for a bit longer.
"We’re looking at another week, two at most," Bowling said. "By mid-May it will go back to five lanes."
The work is part of an ongoing $23 million project to replace the Crain Avenue Bridge with the Fairchild Avenue Bridge and improve the related intersections on both sides of the Cuyahoga River. The project is expected to be complete by December 2012, and the new bridge is set to open to traffice in September.
Sue Helmling, owner of Diggers Bar & Grill at 802 N. Mantua St., said the ongoing construction has been "a nightmare – it’s affecting my business terribly."
Helmling said the winter season created a nice break from road construction.
"When (the road) finally reopened, business picked back up. But now they have it shut down in front of me again … it will probably be another two weeks," she said. "I’ve heard many customer complaints. I have people tell me they have to go through a maze to get in here."
Helmling just keeps hoping for the best and trying to get the word out that Diggers has a back entrance to its parking lot that can be accessed via Cuyahoga Street.
A couple doors down on North Mantua Street is A Cut Above, where owner Karen Shaw is seeing a reduction in the number of new customers walking in the door.
"People complain about it. I’m sure we haven’t gotten new (customers) because people don’t want to come to this side of town," Shaw said. "We have lost some (regular customers), but I don’t know how much is the economy and how much is people who don’t want to pull in or out."
She shared an example of the salon’s above-and-beyond customer service prompted by orange barrels.
"We have one regular customer who will pull in, but she won’t pull out. So (the stylist) pulls the woman’s car out (onto North Mantua Street), drives it over to the wine store, then gets out of the driver’s seat and walks back across the street" so she can avoid the orange barrels, Shaw explained.
Shaw said most of the salon’s "die-hard customers" are simply adapting.
"I had one person park on the other side of the (Crain Avenue) bridge and walk over here because she wasn’t sure if she could pull into our parking lot," she said.
Across the river, the owners of Hutch Pet Shop are in a similar situation. Faithful customers are willing to dodge orange barrels to reach the 39-year-old store, but it’s not known if a reduction in new customers is due to a poor economy or road closures.
Owners Patrick and Danita Flaningan live above their shop, which is flanked on two sides by orange barrels, as the building is situated at the intersection of Lake Street and Crain Avenue. Crain is closed between DePeyster and Lake streets until at least August. Lake Street is lined with orange barrels through its intersection with Crain and Water streets.
"Our parking lot can still be accessed via Crain Avenue, but the road surface is torn off so it looks like a cow path," Patrick Flaningan said. "This is a mess down here. Some of our (customers) are afraid to come because of the signage and the confusion."
Flaningan said several neighboring business owners have been "good enough and gracious enough" to allow Hutch customers to park in their lots. "When I asked, they all said ‘yes.’ We’re neighbors and we all look out for each other," he said.
One of those neighboring businesses is Weiss Motors & Knapp’s Collision. Owner Robert Knapp said he’s worried about the construction effect, "but it hasn’t been terrible yet. So far I haven’t had to pull out what little gray hair I have left."
Business has remained steady the past three weeks because jobs were lined up in advance of the construction season.
"It’s not terribly bad, just because we were busy right before the nightmare began," Knapp said. "But I’m worried about this summer. We’re a little business, and (the road work) will affect the number of people who are driving by that just stop in to get estimates."