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Project costs customers
Wider Liberty Street comes at a price
The Checkered Pig (left) and Welcome Mini-Mart (right) have both seen a decrease in business since the Liberty Street widening project began, according to their respective owners. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Although they believe the work was needed, representatives of several businesses along Liberty Street say the widening project there has cost them customers — and in one case, has forced a reduction in hours employees are working.
“Our customers complain about the hardship of getting in and out of the parking lot and getting back to work on time. That makes them not want to eat in. They call in” orders, said Danielle Penn, manager of Famous Subs and More at 811 Liberty St.
Fewer people dining in means reduced inside sales of drinks and desserts, Penn said.
“The (construction) work has taken a little bit of a toll, especially during lunch. At dinner, it’s not as bad, because people have more breaks during the evenings” and are not as hurried, she said.
The $7 million widening project stretches from York Street north to the Henry County line, according to City Manager Leon Towarnicki. He said the roadway piece of the construction — the area between the curbs and the road — is finished and will be paved before mid-December.
There may be some incidental things, “some seeding and other work that could occur into January and even February,” Towarnicki said.
When the project is complete, Liberty Street will have five lanes — two that travel in each direction and a turn lane — from its intersection with Clearview Drive and Stultz Road to the county line.
Businesses like Famous Subs and More may then return to normal, but for now the effects continue.
“It’s kind of a pain,” Penn said. “We know ourselves” the inconvenience because “we also have delivery and have to leave early ... to go to the industrial park that’s just five minutes up the street.”
“I feel like the actual paving of the road did need to be done, but it’s the widening that’s taking the longest time. Hopefully, it will be over with soon, for our customers’ sake — and ours,” she said.
Lisa Houston, who owns the Checkered Pig at 1014 Liberty St. along with her husband, Tommy, said the work has definitely affected their business, estimating it has declined “at least by a good 25 percent, and when they were (working) right directly in front of our business, we were probably 40 percent down.”
Houston said that fortunately, that part of the work lasted only about two or three weeks, and the work crews “were real good about trying to keep one entrance open” and have both entrances to the restaurant open and accessible in the evenings. “They have tried to work real well with us.”
The project “has been a long, tedious process. I will be glad when it’s over,” she said. “It’s been hard, but we are making it. We had to cut back a lot of hours to make it work, though. The employees have been pretty understanding, but some had to leave because there weren’t not enough hours” of work.
“I hope we can hire them back when we get going again, and we hope our loyal customers come back,” she added.
Houston is hopeful that when the project is done, it will boost her business.
“We hope it brings more business (traffic) through and that the area will build up” and become busier, she said. “In the evenings, after the dinner rush is over, it’s pretty slow. It’s not like being in Collinsville” where there is a steady stream of traffic, she said.
“The road construction has definitely hindered us,” Houston said. “We will be glad when it’s over.”
Mike Patel, owner of Smoker’s Choice at 1015 Liberty St., said he has seen about a 25 percent decrease in his business, mainly because people “go the other way around” to avoid waiting in traffic lines created by the project.
“The work is needed. There’s no doubt about it. With four lanes, there will be more traffic and more people coming this way,” Patel said. “It is needed, but it’s taking too much time.”
Melissa Janey, manager of Welcome Mini Mart at 1012 Liberty St., said the project also decreased business there, although she did not have an estimate of how much.
“It’s gotten to the point now that whatever side of the road people are on, they’re going to stop” if they need fuel or other supplies, Janey said. Business now “just depends on what side of the street they’re (drivers) on,” she said. “Hopefully they will be done with it soon.”