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Latest downtown project rattles city merchants


Business owners concerned construction work on Indian Alley will affect parking, traffic and customers

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- About 45 residents showed up to Thursday's open house about upcoming work on Indian Alley, with some expressing concerns about the latest installment in a string of downtown construction projects.

The project is scheduled to start on July 2 and finish by the end of August. Workers will replace all of the underground utilities along Indian Alley between Cork and Piccadilly streets, in addition to building sidewalks and making streetscape improvements.

Keith Rodgers, who owns People's Cleaners at 104 S. Indian Alley, believes he will lose business during the project.

"In the dry cleaning business, everything now is about convenience," Rodgers said. "If the customers can't get down to that location ... they might try to go somewhere closer."

Many of his customers currently park in front of the building, but the city plans on installing sidewalks there, he said. Throughout the construction period, customers also won't be able to access the small parking lot beside the business, where his employees and tenants also park.

He discussed his parking concerns with Winchester Director of Public Services Perry Eisenach, who said the city may provide parking Autopark vouchers for business owners and residents who live in the soon-to-be affected area.

But John Westervelt, who owns Photography by Westervelt at 15 W. Boscawen St., pointed out that foot traffic will also dwindle because of the construction.

"As soon as we start tearing everything up, the perception of the public is you can't get there," he said. "So your foot traffic dries up. ... The perception is, you can't get there. Whether you can or not is not material."

Westervelt said he has seen his and others' business decline during previous construction periods, especially when the city worked on Boscawen Street.

"It took a lot longer than they said that it would take," he said. "It caused the demise of several of the businesses."

Westervelt called the addition of sidewalks along Indian Alley "a waste of taxpayers' money," explaining that he believes an alley should be safe and well-lit but not necessarily pretty.

Rodgers and Westervelt discussed asking city officials about the possibility of affected business owners receiving some kind of break, perhaps on their business license costs, for the loss in revenue they realize during construction periods.

"Played that card every time they've done something that's directly affected the studio, and I get laughed at," Westervelt said.

Eisenach said city officials try to work with downtown business owners to alleviate some of the financial pain.

"We know it's going to have an impact," he said. "We will just work with them as best we can to minimize that impact."

Eisenach agreed with Westervelt that there have been a lot of construction projects going on in recent years, because "it's work that's been needed," he said.

"Things have fallen into place where [city] council has made infrastructure improvements a priority," he said.

While some local business owners expressed the importance of the projects, they also worry about the consequences.

"The way the economy is now, you don't want to lose any customers at all," Rodgers said.






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