North Main Street Businesses Say MDC Project Is Hurting Their Bottom Lines
September 10, 2010
When southbound motorists approach the Metropolitan District Commission's construction site on North Main Street, they are greeted with a blinking sign that reads "Road Work" followed by "Business Open."
"Very ironic," said Gordon Scott, whose family owns the Scott's Jamaican Bakery chain in the city.
Scott made the comment outside his deserted storefront on North Main Street. With construction cutting off access to parking and congested one-way traffic inching by in front of the bakery, business was off. Again.
“There's one car parked here and it's mine," said Scott, adding that by 11 a.m. the lunch crowd is usually backed up to the door. One person was leaving the store as he spoke and an MDC worker was going in to place an order.
"My business is lunch and traffic going home," he said. "Today I'm not going to get a lunch."
Thursday's scene was not unusual at Scott's in recent months. The MDC's 15-year, $2.1 billion Clean Water project to stop sewer overflows and upgrade the city's water treatment plant has brought construction to the street since April. Scott estimated that business dropped about 20 percent after the project began and dipped more as construction got closer and heavier. He estimated that business is down 50 percent in recent weeks.
"I've laid three people off already," he said. "I'm fortunate I have the other stores to support us. If I didn't, I'd be gone already."
Next door at Xpress Foods, owner Christina Williams, who bought the business four months ago, said that she probably shouldn't have bothered to open Thursday.
"I've made $5 since 9 a.m.," Williams said. "Nobody comes here." Williams is contemplating shutting the business down because she isn't making enough to cover the overhead costs.
Scott said the project itself is not the problem. It's that its effect on local businesses wasn't taken into account — and still isn't.
"The project disregards us completely," said Scott, who suggested that night construction would have helped lessen the effect on the business community. Low- or no-interest loans for businesses trying to hang on through the construction phase also should have been an option, he said.
Scott said that business owners and community groups have also sought help from the MDC and the city, but that the response has been, "Sorry, we can't help you."
Robert E. Moore, the MDC's chief administrative officer, said Thursday that efforts have been made to make sure that there are clearly marked signs pointing potential customers to access to the businesses.
"There have also been efforts made with the city to accommodate their concerns, but there has been no solution," Moore said.
Sarah Barr, director of communications for Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, said in an e-mail that "the mayor is very aware of the situation and is being very thorough by gathering information to see what has caused this apparent breakdown in communication. He's reserving comment until then."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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