Construction, business coexist

Laddie Dailey watches the Pioneer Way water main construction project from the front door of his wife’s Fancy Pants store. - Paul Boring / Whidbey News-Times
Laddie Dailey watches the Pioneer Way water main construction project from the front door of his wife’s Fancy Pants store.
— image credit: Paul Boring / Whidbey News-Times

Downtown mostly does well

In spite of steel plates over the roadway, lane closures and the continued presence of construction equipment rivaling the estimated weight of some dinosaur species, Pioneer Way businesses have attempted to turn their frowns upside-down as the city’s water main replacement project continues.

The expedited move to replace a failing, almost 80-year-old water main on the downtown thoroughfare began April 28. Extending Pioneer Way from Ely Street to Midway Boulevard on Pioneer Way, the block-by-block replacement began at Midway, moving from east to west.

“They’re setting valves in place where the new water main will be connected to the existing system,” said Project Engineer Arnie Peterschmidt Monday afternoon, describing exactly what Interwest Construction employees were fooling around with inside a long gash of open roadway.

“We’ve gone about a thousand feet so far,” Peterschmidt said. “Interwest has aggressively pursued the job since the first day and they are ahead of schedule. We’ve got several hundred feet to go.”

The city alloted the Burlington contractor 43 days to complete the project, factoring in unforeseen complexities. The company crew was given last Friday off to allow the Oak Harbor community and businesses to kickoff Mother’s Day weekend sans construction.

“We gave them an extra day on the contract,” Peterschmidt said.

The project engineer said positive feedback from business owners has overwhelmingly outweighed the negative. Aside from observing less traffic, Jill Schacht, owner of Fox Pointe and The Casual House, said the construction has not affected business.

“But they’re just now getting in front of us,” she said.

Casual House employee Cindy Caplinger said the city has bent over backwards to notify business owners and the community of the inevitable inconveniences and ways to offset any hassles.

“The city’s been really conscientious through the blog and coming by each day to check with merchants,” Caplinger added. “And they’re doing a good job trying to keep traffic flowing.

One would be hard-pressed to find a business owner on Pioneer Way who has not appreciated open sidewalks. And ample, clearly-marked public parking behind the buildings.

Zorba’s, although situated ahead of construction thus far, has also been immune to a lull in business.

“Construction’s moving really fast. Most of our customers are still just coming in.” said Zorba’s waitress Carolyn Merritt, adding that the parking behind the restaurant has helped.

The merchants with the biggest disadvantage are those lacking backdoors. Without a back entrance funneling patrons through the rear, some prospective customers simply overlook the business.

“My business is down 80 percent,” said Les Bense, owner of Oak Tree Antiques & Collectables on the north side of Pioneer. He saw an upturn in business on Saturday, but he is not optimistic it will continue.

“Not having a backdoor really hurts me here. And we are open,” he said with a laugh, encouraging people to peruse the shops via sidewalks. “People don’t have to buy anything. Just come in for some social interaction.”

Laddie Dailey, whose wife Rosalind owns Fancy Pants on the opposite side of the street from Bense, also said traffic has slowed but not business.

“A lot of tourists have been in already,” he said Monday afternoon as he introspectively watched the construction project outside his doors. “It’s been pretty good.”

Dailey, like other merchants, understands the need to prevent fires in the first place rather than constantly put them out.

“Infrastructure has to be redone,” he said. “We don’t want it blowing up on us.”

Peterschmidt said one of the only complaints he has received regarded a temporary street closure between Dock and Hathaway streets.

“Otherwise we’ve had many more positives,” he said.

Peterschmidt and City Engineer Eric Johnston, working with a very tight timeline, held open houses for business owners during which they solicited input as they described project and the need for expediency. The city used public feedback to formulate the final plans and project details.

“We’re happy with the progress,” Peterschmidt said.

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