Business owners along Columbia Avenue say it may take them years to recover from this summer’s road construction.
“You ask me how it went? It went horrible,” says Chantelle Breton, the owner of Riverside Hair.
She says she’s glad to finally see an end to road construction on the city’s main thoroughfare.
“I survived because I had some financial help, some backup,” she says.
With paving done on the street, and most of the curb work completed, Breton says her all-important walk-in traffic is starting to return.
“It’s getting better for walk-ins,” she says. “It’s a lot easier for people to get here. People weren’t taking appointments, or if they did, they would come in late.”
Breton figures her business is down about 75 per cent year-over-year.
“It will take a year to get back to normal,” she estimates.
Castlegar News dropped in on several business owners we previously visited in July, and talked to some new ones, to see how they managed during the six months of road construction.
With work on the $7.1 million project nearly finished — paving was completed last week — business owners say they’re glad it’s over.
“We noticed a decline,” says Ryan Whitney over at Ace of Vapes. “We’ve had people coming in who said they were avoiding the construction, and that’s why they hadn’t been here in a while.”
While he couldn’t say just how much of an impact the construction had, Whitney says the business was hit hard by the loss of tourism traffic, especially from people dropping by on their way to the summer’s music festivals and other events.
“It did affect us, but we understand why they did that,” he says, referring to the road work. “There’s nothing we could do about it and when we talked to the city when it started they said there wasn’t anything they could do.”
“I’m ecstatic we made it,” says Steve Cartwright of Cartwright’s Pub. “I don’t know if we could have made it if it was our first year in business and we were carrying debt. I don’t honestly think we could have.
“We’ve got a good regular base of people who will cover the bill, but we certainly made no profit.”
Like other businesses, the pub saw its biggest drop in walk-in or drive-by tourist traffic.
“It was non-existent,” he says. “In years past we had 300 motorcyclists in the four-month period. This summer we had 30.”
Cartwright figures his business suffered a 25 to 30 per cent drop overall.
“In the daytime it was 50 to 60 per cent, but in the evenings it would pick up,” he says.
The loss of business meant the pub didn’t hire its usual complement of summer students, and other staff had shorter hours.
Still, he says the road contractor, Marwest, was excellent to deal with, and tried to support his business by holding meetings and having lunches at the pub. With the road work almost complete, Cartwright hopes the new road may actually attract customers to drop by.
“I’ll never recoup what I lost, not for a few years anyway,” he says.
“It’s going to be a welcome relief when it’s all done, mentally and financially.”
Over at the Columbia Plaza, it’s equally gloomy.
“Everything has absolutely gone downhill,” says Nicole Talarico, the owner of the Beach Shack tanning and beauty products salon. “Some days are better than others, but I have had plenty of cancellations, and that’s the same for all of us.
“It’s going to take a long time to recover these losses — up to a year. It’s been a huge hit,” she says.
It was busy in the Dollarama when the News stopped by, but that’s a big change from the summer.
“We saw a drop immediately after construction started,” says Debbie Zemp, the assistant team leader at the store. “It was just dead. We went down in sales in the first week.”
The change was almost as dramatic after the paving was completed, she says.
“That started last Wednesday, and it’s been crazy since,” she said. “People are coming back. We had good sales on Sundays when they weren’t working. That was definitely reflected in the business.”
Only one business the News spoke to came through the construction relatively unscathed.
Amber Stoochnoff came in to help manage her parents’ business, Dragonflies and Fairy Dust, earlier this year. But she says the 12-year-old business would not have survived without making changes this summer.
“It’s the biggest challenge we ever faced,” she says. “We heard this was coming down, we said, ‘Okay, there’s got to be something different or we’re not going to make it’.
Stoochnoff says she began posting the business’s wares more often on social media, and it made all the difference.
“We are actually up right now, I have no question that otherwise we would have been down,” she says. “If we didn’t do that, if we didn’t have that other way, I have no doubt we would have been in big trouble or would have closed our doors.”
While she wants to remain positive for the city, Stoochnoff has concerns about how the construction played out.
“This project went way over what it was expected to go, and it was super hurtful for us, and we’re not happy with that. We businesses have reached out to the city and Marwest… and nothing has been done so far.”
The city’s already rejected the idea of compensation for businesses, and the contractor did make some effort to encourage people to shop at the area businesses.