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Shops struggling as Streetscape work continues

Cheryl’s Clothes Closet prepares to close
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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The first phase of Auburn’s Streetscape project is supposed to be completed within about six weeks. But at least one Downtown shop isn’t going to make it to the end. Cheryl’s Clothes Closet on Lincoln Way started its going-out-business sale this week. “It was the final nail in the coffin,” owner Jodie Luckett said about the construction that has blocked parking and clogged the High Street-Lincoln Way intersection since work began in June. Luckett said sales have been down about 50 percent since then. “I’m not against Streetscape,” she said Monday. “It just came at a really bad time when business was already down 40 percent. And to have it sliced in half again was too much.” City Manager Bob Richardson said he’s disheartened to see businesses closing throughout the city. “This continues to be a very tough time and that’s why we need to continue to improve the market area with every opportunity,” he said Monday. Richardson said he expects access at High Street and Lincoln Way to be back to normal by early December. “There is currently a delay in the project and we’re looking to catch that back up,” he said. “At the last meeting with the contractors (Cook Engineering), they see the plaza opening for use in early December with final work continuing into December.” Luckett has owned the consignment shop since 1991. For the first 16 years, it was located in the Livingston Building on High Street. Then she moved it to the Palm Center, off Highway 49 for two years. “I thought moving back to Downtown was the answer,” she said. “But I didn’t realize Streetscape (would have such an impact).” Down the street, at Wildflower, owners Don and Adele Wise say it has been a challenge for customers to get into the store. Last week’s announced three-week schedule delay was another blow. “November and December are the two busiest months of the year,” Don Wise said. At The Pizza Place, sales have dropped 50 percent since construction fences went up in front of the eatery, co-owner Richie Hocutt said. “People were avoiding Downtown already, but now they have to be specifically coming to my restaurant to come down here,” he said. Even pizza deliveries have dropped. “I don’t know if it’s construction,” Hocutt said. “But just having the phone number and address blocked makes it difficult.” But he’s optimistic about the impact of Streetscape on Downtown. “When you look across the street in front of Ffrogs, it gives a sense of hope to see what it’s going to look like,” he said. Tango frozen yogurt shop, which occupies the corner right in the middle of construction, opened after the work began. “I got this location because I love the space,” owner Lisa Swisley said. “But it is going to be tough until it is done. It’s not packed in here, but some people are finding their way.” One business that’s holding its own is Kids Closet. “We’re surprised that people are parking two blocks away and walking,” owner Denise Cardona said. “October and November are our busiest months. There’s been a slowdown, but not as much as I expected.” Across the street at Pioneer Mining Supplies, the new sidewalk is in place showing the design for the commemorative plaques. But co-owner Dennis Robnett says the redevelopment funds could have been better spent in other areas of town. “I understand we have to move forward and things have to be done, but I don’t see how this is helping Auburn,” Robnett said. The business, which sells mining and dredging equipment, has seen about a 42 percent slowdown. Robnett cites lack of parking, less foot traffic and difficulty maneuvering around the area for the decline. “We may have to close in December,” he said. At Cheryl’s Clothes Closet, business was bustling Monday as customers snapped up clothing bargains. But for Luckett, it’s a sad countdown until the doors close for the final time. “When Streetscape is all done, for the businesses that make it through, it will be good,” she said. “But maybe they should have waited until the recession was over.” Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.