After spending thousands of dollars renovating a building on North Florida Street to open her business, the last thing Lindsey Stiegler expected was to lose most of the foot traffic for Soiree Signatures Invitation Studio & Calligraphy some nine months after she opened it.
“I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this building,” she said. “We were open less than a year when the work started.”
In October, the city began a drainage project that has since seen the street torn up, resurfaced and torn up again. The roadway has been closed to through traffic several times and when it’s open, the dusty, rocky thoroughfare has been less than a desirable drive for would-be customers.
Stiegler joined a number of business owners on the stretch of street to voice concerns over the handling of the project and the implications its length could have on their livelihoods.
“I’ve tried to be positive about the whole thing,” she said. “I understand there’s a job to do and I try not to give them too much pushback.”
Since the work began, Stiegler said she has had to spend “atrocious” amounts of money on advertising to get walk-in customers.
“I’ve spent about $18,000 to let people know we’re here,” she said. “We don’t have time to sit on Facebook and Instagram to tell people how to get here.”
With a dearth of foot traffic, Stiegler said the business has been successful in transitioning to more design work while the drainage work continues. The design of a Mobile crest for flags and other accessories have helped her increase small sales, but has led to decreased profits because with almost no wedding business, Stiegler said the shop is missing out on bigger sales.
Stiegler is also concerned that a drying-up, walk-in wedding business will have an impact after the work is completed because most is scheduled in advance.
Councilman Fred Richardson, who represents the businesses along North Florida Street, has shared his concerns over the project with Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office. Chief among those concerns is doing whatever it takes to keep the street open and passable for business owners along the corridor.
“My goal is to open up the street so people can get to those businesses,” he said.
On two different occasions, Richardson said he went to the street in mid-afternoon to discover the contractor had left for the day, while the street was closed.
“When you close both lanes to traffic, you maximize efforts to get it done,” Richardson said. “In this case, the street was closed and the equipment was standing still. Nobody was working.”
About the work schedule, city spokeswoman Anitra Henderson confirmed there are currently no delays, but that the workers start early and finish early.
“Road contractors normally start their day early in the morning and finish their day early in the afternoon,” she wrote in an email message. “Depending on Councilman Richardson’s timing it is very possible he did not see any active work.”
The project is still on track to finish in November of this year, which Henderson wrote has always been the timeframe.
“The effort is transitioning from the heavy underground work (water/sewer/drainage) to the topside work (curb/gutter/paving),” she wrote. “The topside work will be performed by subcontractors of the prime contractor. This translates into different equipment and manpower being mobilized in/out of the project.”
Henderson wrote that while the perception might be nobody is working, in reality, the public is not going to see a person, or equipment moving all the time.
While Stiegler said she’s tried to be understanding, the father-and-son owners of Wimpee’s Floor Center have been less diplomatic about the issue.
Hanging from the front of the business is a big yellow sign that states: “Please forgive the city’s lack of progress,” an obvious nod to the length of time it has taken to finish the project.
Paul Wimpee said the work hasn’t had a negative impact on sales because their work is specialized enough that it can survive, but he feels for the other, newer businesses that aren’t as specialized.
Arthur Green, owner of Bay Barbecue, has also been annoyed by the work and the negative impact it has had on the business. Green said the restaurant’s sales have dipped 65 percent since the work began. Like Stiegler, Green said it’s been tough to lure walk-in traffic with road work constantly going on.
“When I talk to people they say ‘I’ll come down there when it’s over,” he said. “People say it looks like a war zone.”
Any thoughts about making improvements to the restaurant, or improving the dining experience have had to be put on hold, Green said.
“We’re ready to add on and do a deck out front, but do you want a side of dust with your ribs?” Green asked. “We just want a passable road.”
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here