By Sally Voth
Residents and merchants on Friday seemed to dig the renovation efforts as the Loudoun Street pedestrian mall's facelift begins.
City officials officially kicked off the estimated $8 million project Friday afternoon. The renovation of the walking mall will include the replacement of century-old water and sewer lines, brick pavers, new street furniture, landscape work, splash pads for children, public restrooms and gateways.
"This is kind of the kick-off to the whole start of this renovation, and we just wanted to ... have some fun with what's going on here, letting everybody know," Old Town Development Board member and Full Circle Marketing owner Dario Savarese said after the event.
With pipe excavation work in the center of the walking mall, wooden walls have been erected in front of the shops to provide clear walkways.
"All the businesses are accessible, whether it's through their front door, or even their rear door," Savarese said.
Eugene Smith, owner of EBS Gallery, which is located on the mall, came out to catch the event Friday.
"I've been here 25 years as a merchant," Smith said. "It's good to see positive things happening to the city. It's good to see the positive energy. We will wait for spring to see how it develops, but I have a good feeling, there's a lot of knowledgeable people in charge.
"An advantage of this, too, it's going to make merchants fix up the backs of their shop so they have back entrances."
City Mayor Elizabeth Minor was also excited about the project.
"I think it's going to be wonderful, and I think the progress that has been made just in the first three days is amazing," she said after the ceremony.
If the weather holds and everything goes as planned, the project should be done in three months, in time for the Apple Blossom Festival, Minor said.
Just moments before, she had been complimented by Steven "Mark" Georgia.
"Hello, mayor, I just moved here, and you have a beautiful town," he said.
Georgia and his girlfriend, Rachel Delgado-Simmons, moved to their new house on Piccadilly Street from New Jersey six months ago, he said.
"We wanted to come to the groundbreaking," Georgia said. "We were looking at the website. Winchester always has things to do."
"We come down here a lot," she said. "We were here for New Year's Eve. We come down here to eat. We were at the shops."
Georgia said being near the construction project made him feel he wanted to be part of the city's economic development. The couple bought their house on Piccadilly Street so they could walk around the city, and said they plan to continue to do so even while the renovation is going on.
"If you're going to have progress, you have to allow it to happen," Georgia said.
Progress is what drew The Polka Dot Pot owner Emily Rhodes to the pedestrian mall. She opened up in September after eight years at Creekside Station in Kernstown.
"I like what they're doing with the mall," she said inside her shop. "I think it's going to be gorgeous when they're done. So far it hasn't for me personally and the business here, it hasn't been an inconvenience yet. I still see a lot of people walking up and down through the pathways, through the maze."
Having bulldozers outside might actually draw more people inside her establishment, Rhodes said.
"Kids love that sort of stuff, too, and they will be working on Saturdays, which will be perfect if families want to come down and see what's going on," she said.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org