It should be no secret that Main Street outlets are open

January, to put it mildly, was not very mild in the Grand Valley. The wintry weather added to the woes facing businesses on the western half of Grand Junction’s Main Street, where work crews began tearing up the pavement in December.

“We’re in survival mode,” said Susan Crippen, who, with her husband Rick, owns and operates Dolce Vita Italian Cuisine at 336 Main St.

“We got hit by three things. First the economy is bad, then the weather has kept people off the sidewalks, and then this,” she said, pointing at the construction zone outside her front door.

“I think if people know about the available parking and how to get around, they’ll come down,” she added. But many believe it’s difficult to get to downtown stores — even on the eastern blocks that aren’t under construction — so they just avoid downtown.

Even so, there have been bright spots amid the difficult month. One came a few weeks ago when covers were put over the parking meters in the lot on the northwest corner of Third and Main streets. The city, in conjunction with the Reimer family that owns the property, agreed to forego revenue from the lot for the duration of the construction and provide 40 spaces of free parking near the work zone, said Heidi Hoffman Ham, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority.

The DDA is paying for most of the renovation of Main Street, while the city pays for the utilities upgrade.

“The free parking has been significant,” said Karen Hildebrandt, owner of Unique Expressions, which is also in the building at 336 Main St. “People are concerned about how to get downtown. I have a pretty loyal following, and most of my customers haven’t had trouble finding their way here,” but some people are unsure about how to get around.

To that end, the DDA has also put up banners at several intersections now blocked by construction, informing people that all of the businesses on Main Street are still open and that sidewalks are also open to get them there. “I think the signage helped a lot,” said Rick Crippen.

The DDA has also purchased tokens for the city’s parking garage at Fourth Street and Rood Avenue, and given them to businesses on Main Street to hand out to their regular customers. That has had some success, but many people are still reluctant to use the parking garage.

That was evident one afternoon last week, when there were a handful of vehicles in the parking garage, but the parking lot at Third and Main was packed.

“I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t like the parking garage,” Susan Crippen said.

One definite bright spot, according to the people I talked to, has been the project contractor, FCI Constructors.

“FCI has done a good job keeping the site clean and working with us,” said Ham. “I’ve heard of a number of people who just like to come down and watch what they’re doing.”

“The contractors have been great,” said Susan Crippin. “If we have an issue, they deal with it.”

When merchants complained that pedestrians weren’t easily able to get from the south side of Main Street to the north side in the block between Third and Fourth Streets, FCI opened a temporary path across the construction area in the middle of the block.

Also helpful has been the determination by those who work in the downtown area to continue patronizing downtown businesses.

Now that temperatures have warmed a bit, and the traditional January drop-off in retail is passed, the current period will be telling, said Hildebrandt. “This will be a good gauge — Valentine’s week — to see how it compares with last year.”

When the sun came out and temperatures stopped freezing last week, a few people were out. The sidewalks on both ends of Main Street were not exactly crowded, but people were walking, even near the construction zone, visiting shops and restaurants. But more customers are needed.

The construction project will continue until June (the blocks from Fourth Street to Seventh Street will be revamped next year). Area residents who have long enjoyed the flower-lined and tree-shaded shopping park on Main Street on a pleasant summer day ought to make the effort to show merchants there that they still appreciate them, even when it’s chilly and the street is under construction.

Gary Harmon’s column will return next Sunday.


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