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Streetscape construction slows Downtown business

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Three weeks into construction on Downtown Auburn’s Streetscape, the impact of the project is resounding beyond rutted streets, fenced-off work areas and piles of sand and gravel. Owners of businesses surrounding the job site say the lack of access is choking off customers. They aired concerns about restricted access and lack of signage during a weekly meeting Tuesday and Wednesday with City Manager Bob Richardson and Bernie Schroeder, engineering division manager. Richardson said the city will do all it can to make the process less difficult for businesses. Part of that is keeping the timetable on schedule for a December completion. It could even be completed in November, he said. Schroeder added that the city is increasing construction crew work hours from eight- to 10-hour days, will install better directional signs through the site and will reopen Linden Avenue later this week. Linden still will be closed periodically for concrete work. At the same time, she stressed that they won’t cut corners to finish the job. “We want everything done properly,” Schroeder said. “We’ve got to make sure that what’s done underneath is done right.” Once it is completed, we don’t want to find later that we have to tear it out to fix something, she added. The city also is launching a weekly advertising campaign in local papers for the next five weeks to assist some of the hardest hit Downtown shops, Richardson said. Having Linden Avenue reopened was particularly good news for GeRee Carpenter, owner of JW Ffrog’s, because it will provide direct access to the parking lot behind her building. With sidewalks gone, replaced by a plywood walkway, and 6-foot-high wire fencing running in front of the store, customers are having a hard time finding her business, which specializes in shirts, jackets and other clothing items with personalized embroidery. “Although it says parking in the rear, customers don’t know how to access it,” Carpenter said. “People see (the work site) as a war zone. … I’ve even put a message on my answering machine explaining how to access the parking lot.” Around the corner, at Geri’s Reflection Salon, owner Geri Godsey said she hasn’t felt the slowdown as severely as others on the block but her shop fronts on Lewis Street, which is closed to traffic and blocked by two large piles of sand and gravel at the Lincoln Way intersection. Some of her customers come from outside the Auburn area, so it is even harder for them to negotiate unfamiliar Downtown streets, she said. “We’ve actually gone to get people to show them how to get here,” Godsey said. After the meeting, Ron Solomon, owner of Auburn Jewelry and Loan pawnshop on Lincoln Way, said he’s pleased with the city’s response to concerns. “I think the city is doing the best it can to answer all the issues,” he said. “But it would be foolish to say it’s not impacting our businesses.” And it’s not only businesses directly on the periphery of the construction that are experiencing a slowdown. At Cherry Records, owner Al Lauer said he’s seen a 15 to 20 percent drop in business since the project started — because his customers can’t find parking. That’s in addition to the 25 percent drop in the past year because of the economy. “I just had a customer tell me he had to park all the way past Big O Tires (a couple of blocks away on Lincoln Way),” Lauer said. But Lauer, who’s owned the music store for 25 years, is trying to look on the bright side. “I know it’s all going to come around and be good,” he said. “(But for now,) it’s like holding your breath under water.” A couple of doors down, Wildflower has seen a drastic impact, employee Mary Stokesbarry said. “There’s a parking lot behind the store, but a lot of people don’t know about it,” she said. “A lot of the parking places are permit only. We were hoping the city would temporarily rescind the permit parking.” Wildflower owner Adele Wise agreed. “Only two of those parking places have been purchased, so the others could be used by customers or other folks,” she said. “Also, it has been made into an eight-hour parking lot. People can park there all day. It would be nice if they would change it to three-hour parking during the construction.” Nearby, Hanami Sushi, which faces the work area, has seen a 50 percent drop in customers, according to Sung Park, employee and niece of the owner. “After 4:30 to 5 p.m. a lot of businesses close and (customers) think we’re closed, too,” she said. Recently she put a large bunch of colorful balloons just outside the door to attract attention. As work continues in August, a PG&E crew will be at the site in addition to project contractor Cook Engineering’s workers. Schroeder said she expects PG&E’s work to take four- to-six weeks. Gloria Young can be reached at Gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com -------- The public can attend the Auburn Endurance Capital Committee meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, in Room 9 at City Hall, 1225 Lincoln Way in Auburn. The public will be able to give input on which endurance athletes will be honored with tiles in the plaza, as well as the annual selection criteria for additional tiles. For further information on the Endurance Capital Committee meeting contact City Manager Bob Richardson at (530) 823-4211 ext. 192. For more information on Streetscape, see rwww.auburn.ca.gov/dept/dept_pw_streetscape.html