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Winslow business owners are in survival mode these days
It's now about three months into the Winslow Way Improvement Project, which means the nerves of merchants along the street are beginning to fray.
As is common these days, a store owner in downtown Winslow was greeted Friday with the question, "How are you surviving?"
Most will just shrug their shoulders and say they hope the latest estimate (July 17) on when the Winslow Way phase will conclude is accurate. Others just say they hope the worst of it is behind them.
That certainly includes Morley Horder of the Eagle Harbor Book Company and next-door neighbor Susan Jackson of Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, whose stores endured flooded basements in May and have had their street entrances blocked all week until the city finally built a wood "bridge" Friday to at least allow front-door access off the street.
Contractor Lucci & Sons began some heavy concrete work right in front of the stores on Monday, which completely closed off Winslow Way access. The only access to BAC, for example, was to approach from the rear of the building, walk up the stairs on the east side of the bookstore, enter through the side door and then exit the front door and walk a few feet along a narrow slip of gravel to the BAC front door.
The owners were told they'd just have to live with it since it would only be for a couple of days. But Jackson, Horder and building owner Ron McCrary had had enough when they were told it would take several more days to complete the job. They were also irked by the fact there were no signs and rarely in anyone helping people to traverse the construction area since there are no sidewalks..
"The city felt misled because it's taking longer that they were told and we felt misled," Jackson said Friday. Earlier in the day, the city had spent about three hours building a 30-foot-long, 5-foot-wide landing that now connects their front entrances to a series of winding, maze-like paths stretching the length of the main construction area.
McCrary and his attorney made some threatening noise for a couple of days, but nothing was done until Jackson sent the city an exasperated email at 4 p.m. Thursday.
In part, she wrote: "When the big fence arrived on Monday, we were told it would be there for just two days. Now, we are told it will block our entrance until next Tuesday, through the weekend (our biggest days of the week). This just won't do... [we are] losing a ton of business, my staff is entirely deflated and the two people who actually made it in to us today were plain mad...like me. First a flood, now a blocked entrance. What next?"
In May, a three-quarter-inch pipe was severed by machinery and poured water into the lower areas of the stores. Over a couple of days, it flooded Eagle Harbor's used book store and an area where BAC's art was being stored, though Jackson said the art was removed before it could be damaged.
"The flood was horrendous, but it didn't affect our business and insurance will make us whole," Horder said. "But when they closed the street during working hours last month that really hit us hard. When they shut down the traffic, that changed everything. We have the parking between and behind the buildings, but now it's almost impossible for people to get to us. They just give up."
Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer said she knew nothing of the situation until she read Jackson's email.
"I got her email at 4 and we had a solution by 4:30 p.m.," Bauer said. "I have tried to make it clear that businesses should call me directly when there's a problem we can solve. We promised to be responsive, but sometimes we don't know what's going on." She said it didn't take staff long to come up with a solution, which cost around $2,000.
Bauer said the city has made a point of trying to keep front doors open, but there will be instances when that's difficult.
"This is at that point in the project where were close to the worst inconvenience and until we get past the tipping it is no fun," Bauer said. "We think the tipping point will come next week. We hope."
Jackson said business has been lousy and she can only hope that her fiscal year will be in the black when it ends in two weeks.
"I just hope we have a good summer when this is done," she said.
They deserve it.