Business owners upset over Broadway construction
SARANAC LAKE – Brian Logan says he was ready to punch the village manager.
That’s how upset the owner of Jreck Subs on Broadway said he was Wednesday when he showed up at the village offices to complain about the ongoing Broadway reconstruction project. Logan said the road closures, detours and general disruption from the project have cut into his customer traffic and revenue to the point where he’s worried about losing his business.
“I went and talked to John Sweeney yesterday, and he didn’t really like me,” Logan said Thursday. “He almost had me arrested cause I almost knocked him out. Right in the village office.”
Sweeney said he’s received some complaints about the project from business owners in recent days. He acknowledged he had a tense meeting with a very frustrated Logan Wednesday, but he said he didn’t think Logan was going to take a swing at him. He also said he never threatened to arrest Logan.
“I didn’t take it that way, but I understand his concern,” Sweeney said.
Launched in mid April, the effort to replace aging water, sewer and storm drainage infrastructure between Bloomingdale Avenue and Dorsey Street has lived up to its billing.
“It’s going to be a mess,” Sweeney said in late March.
When the project began, most of the work took place at night. Logan said things were much better for him then because the road was open to one-way traffic during the day and his customers could get to the sub shop. Now that the work has shifted to daytime construction, “you can totally see the difference in business,” Logan said.
“Now, I’m down an average of about $2,000 a week in sales. To top it off, you do your order and you make your food considering what you think you’ll need each day. But today I threw out probably 10 pounds of macaroni salad, five pounds of chicken salad, three dozen rolls because they were moldy. Not only am I losing business, I’m throwing out product.”
Logan also said he’s had to cut his employees’ hours in half and has eaten into his savings over the past month-and-a-half just trying to keep the business operating.
Across Olive Street at the Saranac Lake Post Office, Postmaster Denise Lapierre said business at the post office counter, which is normally bustling with people buying stamps and mailing packages, has taken a hit during the construction.
“Our retail revenue has been crazy low,” she said. “Last week wasn’t too bad – it was only like $700 off from last year – but the two weeks before that it was $2,000 under revenue. It’s been slow.”
Lapierre said a lot of her customers are frustrated with the construction and are now going to other post offices, like the one in Ray Brook, which she said has seen an up-tick in revenue.
Further down Broadway, Amy Johnstone, owner of the EcoLiving clothing and accessories shop, called the construction work a necessary evil. She said the impact on downtown businesses has been “devastating.” Businesses generally only have seven months of the year in which they make money, and June is one of them, Johnstone said.
Nevertheless, she’s optimistic for the village’s economy, especially considering the renovation of the Hotel Saranac.
“This is like the depths of hell before we go up,” Johnstone said.
Peter Wilson said this was the worst May and the hardest spring he’s seen in the 17 years he’s run Major Plowshares Army Navy store at 19 Broadway.
“I’m way, way down from past years,” Wilson said.
Like Johnstone, however, he’s hopeful for the future, based on a positive buzz he’s hearing about local business developments.
“We’re right now at the nadir, and hopefully we’re about to – rapidly, please – climb,” Wilson said. “After a spring like this, you’ve got to have hope.”
What Logan says really set him off, and prompted his meeting with Sweeney, took place Wednesday when he had to close for the day because customers couldn’t access his shop. Crews were installing new curbs along Broadway, but Logan said he hadn’t gotten any advance notice that the work would be happening.
“I went to a meeting two weeks before this started, and they said they’re going to communicate with us and try their hardest not to disrupt downtown businesses,” Logan said. “All of it was a lie. I never got once communicated with. Nobody’s told me anything that’s going on. I’ve had to talk to the contractors to find out what’s going on.”
Lapierre said she’s been just as frustrated about the lack of communication from the village.
“I haven’t heard anything,” she said. “One village employee talked to me a couple days ago about moving our collection can because they were going to pour the sidewalk there, but other than that nobody’s let me know. I’d just come to work in the morning and say, ‘Oh, I can’t get to work that way. I’ll have to go around.’ I haven’t been told ahead of time like how long (the road) was going to be closed or if I was going to have any access to the building. It’s been difficult.”
Lapierre said she understands that the work needs to be done, recalling a major water line break on Broadway last year, but “It just seems like it’s taking a long time.”
Sweeney said he’s sympathetic to these businesses, but he doesn’t know what else can be done to speed up the project.
He admitted the village has done a poor job of keeping businesses up to date on the project, particularly of late.
“We failed on the communication portion this last week,” he said.
The village is trying to shore up its communications with the affected business owners. Sweeney and village Department of Public Works Superintendent Jeff Dora visited several businesses in the construction zone Thursday afternoon, including the Enterprise.
“We’re going door to door saying, ‘What are your needs, and how can we accommodate them?'” Sweeney said.
The manager speculated that some people may have believed the entire project was supposed to take place at night.
“I think that’s part of what has been the issue,” he said. “We talked about doing infrastructure at night then transitioning to day work on the curbs and sidewalks, but for some reason, a lot of people heard, ‘Hey, we’re going to do everything at night.’ I think that’s where things have gone awry.”
Sweeney said the project has been one of the most complex he’s ever been involved in because of the challenge of coordinating multiple contractors, village crews and a utility company that are all working in a busy downtown area. Despite that, he said the project is still on track to be wrapped up by the week of June 23.
Jim Bickford of Saranac Lake said he was disturbed when he went into Jreck Subs to get lunch and, after a conversation with the owner, realized how badly the work was hurting business.
“He’s put all his resources into it, and he’s losing it every day,” Bickford said. “I don’t think people realize the condition of some of these businesses.”
He hopes Saranac Lakers will go out of their way to overcome the obstacles and patronize these Broadway shops.
“It’s touch and go after a long winter, and maybe people could support them,” he said.