Business blues for downtown merchants - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Business blues for downtown merchants

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August 19, 2003

Albany - Beautifying downtown Albany is costing businesses big bucks. And, the city promises to speed up construction on Broad Avenue to help merchants stay in business. Right now, customers have to step over huge construction beams or cross rickety ramps to access a block of stores on Broad Avenue.

Tuesday, business owners complained to Albany commissioners about the construction of the new sidewalks. City engineers apologized for telling merchants they would target construction on only sections of the block but then tore up the entire sidewalk. One business owner is happy to see the city shifting into high gear, but hopes it's not too late.

From his store on Broad Avenue, Ron Owens has seen the landscape change over the last 50 years. But, it's never looked this bad. The Owens family owned Owens Sporting Goods for years, but sold the company. In December, Owens opened Bloch Brothers Exercise, Bicycles, and Tennis. And, business was going good.

"Business was great until a month ago," said Owens. That's when the city's Streetscape project began. Last month, the city tore up the an entire block to revamp the sidewalks and since then, business has plummeted.

"These small businesses are very vulnerable," said Owens. "It doesn't take much to knock us to our knees." Downtown merchants started complaining about customer access and pedestrian safety, and city engineers listened.

"The DOT allowed us to shut down one lane of traffic," said Albany Engineering Director Bob Alexander. "We then turned the lane into parallel parking, allowing pedestrians to walk free of traffic."

Now the city is spending thousands of dollars to speed up the work. "We're trying to renegotiate the contract so crews can work seven days a week, 12 hours a day," said Alexander. The 6 month project is on schedule and may be finished sooner than expect, if crews work overtime.

Meanwhile, Owens just hopes customers doesn't drive right by just because they can't walk right in. A walkway should be in place by Friday, but the project won't be completed until January.

Posted at 4:15PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com