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Counting Up The Losses

Merchants tally hidden costs

September 2, 2010
By DEAN WELLS dwells@timesobserver.com
The multi-million dollar project designed to renovate downtown Warren’s tired-looking streets and sidewalks is taking its toll on local merchants. The Streetscape Project, which got underway last August, ripping up the downtown sidewalks and roadways along Pennsylvania Ave., Liberty St. and Second Ave., has emptied the tills of storeowners in the area as customers stay away to avoid the construction. “We’ve been in business for 63 years,” said Valone Shoe Store owner John Dick. “We are in danger of going out of business now.” According to Dick, a large percentage of his customer base is made up of senior citizens. “They don’t even come down to look anymore. They don’t want to deal with the mess outside.” How bad has it been? “The other day we sold four pairs of lace-up boots to (a local construction company owner),” Dick said. “That was our only sale of the day. “On top of two wars we are in, the economy and an oil slick, we have the downtown ripped up. It’s just killing us. I’ll like how it looks when it’s done, but it’s going to put us out of business. I don’t know if I have any fight left in me. I’m worn out.” The Streetscape Project was designed to widen and replace downtown Warren’s crumbling sidewalks, redesign parking, add green space and a fountain, new streetlights and bury overhead utilities to create a more attractive and business-friendly atmosphere. The first phase of the project, which includes Pennsylvania Ave. to Hickory Street, Liberty St. and Second Ave., is expected to be completed next May. Merchants say they have been taking a hit to their wallets since construction on the project got underway last August. Don Trubic, owner of Choice Cigarettes, said he was so fed up with the loss in revenue at his store he began sending GRO-Warren an invoice for reimbursement totaling $20,000. “I don’t expect to get paid,” Trubic said. “I just wanted them to see what was happening.” “Business is definitely down,” said Plaza owner Jim Douvlas. “There’s no question about that.” United News owner Maria Frontera said she was recently forced to take out over $16,000 in loans to keep her store open after her lottery ticket sales plummeted by $23,000 between March and August of this year. “My biggest question is how do we recover our losses?” Frontera said. “We took over Warren United News in September 2008. Its business efficacy was doubtful. We brought it back to life in spite of major tobacco tax increases. We made sure it was economy-proof with our assortment of varying products. Then came Streescape, loss of traffic flow, loss of parking, loss of safe walking surfaces. As a result, we have had to incur loss after loss and finance $16,500 in loans because of the construction. Please be clear, the $16,500 is not a state grant. It must be paid back.” One business – Gaughn’s Drug – has been able to cope with the lack of parking and ready access to their store via a home delivery option. “Our business has been fine, but the only thing that has helped us is we have free delivery and we greatly expanded on that,” Gaughn’s Drug co-owner Bob Ruhlman said. “It’s what kept us afloat.” Kathy Johnson, owner of The Point, located in the basement at the tip of the Flatiron Building, said her business would have gone under months ago if it weren’t for her regular clientele. “I’ve been affected very much, being completely boxed in on both sides and the front by construction,” Johnson said. “Because I have a steady clientele, I hang in there. But if I depended on retail and people walking by, I would have gone out of business four months ago. It’s been horrible. “To me,” added Johnson, “the worst part is whoever is in charge here really doesn’t seem to care. I have yet to have anyone come down and ask me how I was doing.”
 
 

 

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