Valley News – White River Junction business owners look the other side of roadworks

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The $5 million overhaul of downtown White River Junction’s water and sewer system continues this summer, tearing up roads and sidewalks to dissect the infrastructure below and rebuild services public by modern standards. Businesses along the route are preparing for a tough season following the COVID-19 closures, with limited parking, clogged storefronts, dusty streets and missing sidewalks.

Scheduled to be completed by the end of September, this phase of the project began on June 1 and includes the replacement of water and sewer lines under the intersection of Main Streets North and South, on both sides of the street. North Main Street to and including the intersection of Bridge Street, as well as South Main Street to the corner of Gates Street and up Gates to Currier Street. The project includes the installation of new roadways, sidewalks, drainage and streetscape improvements, some of which could be delayed until next spring depending on weather conditions, according to City Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis.

On the first Sunday of summer, the sidewalk patio at Tuckerbox was buzzing with brunches. Across the street, parked bucket to bucket where the public parking lot had turned to dirt, stood two-story yellow diggers. When the project crosses the street and dumps dirt under tables, all meals will move indoors until a new sidewalk emerges, no matter how long that takes.

Jackie Oktay, co-owner of Tuckerbox and sister store Little Istanbul, both of which are on the road to construction this summer, worked in the kitchen. She focused on the silver linings.

“Last summer, we extended the patio on the road and were able to accommodate 40 people there,” she pointed out, recounting the months when the COVID-19 regulations associated with construction presented a rare opportunity to implement expanded outdoor dining.

“Work is way behind schedule,” she explained. ” We can not wait to be there. We used to turn off the water three or four times a year,” which she described as emergency events, especially for restaurants required to close immediately without notice.

“They said two months, so we’re looking at four months,” Oktay said, and so far business hasn’t been affected, “not yet.” In the present, she likes to imagine the finished product on the horizon. “It will be so good when it is done. The sidewalks will be nice.

Around the corner at 26 N. Main St., Kim Souza, founder and co-owner of Revolution clothing store, is grateful for her “loyal customer base,” which she attributes in part to strong sales.

“It didn’t deter our clientele,” she said of the construction, framed by her storefront. “We appreciate them so much.”

Souza said she was “surprised and grateful” that Revolution’s business didn’t fall behind and that she saw a mix of new and old customers visiting the store. “With so many weddings and graduations, we’ve seen a lot of clients bring their families,” Souza added.

Next door, Pam Post, owner of stationery store Post, has also recently seen an increase in out-of-town customers.

“Business continues to be very good,” she said, adding that the construction may not have affected her as much since the store has no designated parking lot, so its customers mainly arrive walk.

On Sunday, Kimberly Pierce, manager of Piecemeal Pies on South Main, watched the silent equipment parked across the street as a line of customers formed behind her. Piecemeal Pies is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and also has no designated parking lot. “Most of our customers walk here and mostly on weekends, so it hasn’t really affected business,” Pierce said.

No DPW work takes place on Saturdays and Sundays, allowing a reprieve for residents and businesses that remain open on weekends.

Ernie Nauopoulos, owner of C&S Pizza at 104 S. Main St., said his business “wasn’t affected at all by the construction” as phones rang and customers took orders on a Thursday afternoon. recent.

C&S employee Cameron Keener, who drove one of the three delivery vehicles when construction rolled through their driveway last summer, is grateful that most of the work has been completed. He confirmed that while delivery drivers experienced complications during this time, he saw little effect on the business as a whole.

“At 4 or 5 p.m. they were done,” Keener said, adding that the restaurant’s recent two-week closure was unrelated to construction and was due to “the heat and personal need for a break. “.

Although in the minority, some businesses in the city center are in difficulty. The free-standing Phnom Penh Sandwich Station building, at the corner of North and South Main Streets, is currently surrounded by land, at the heart of the project footprint. A flyer on the front door advertises in bold capitals: “NOW Recruiting”, for positions in White River Junction and Lebanon.

Two doors down at 27 N. Main St., the Juel Modern Apothecary Cafe is normally closed on Sundays and Mondays, but hours are getting shorter. The sign on their door reads: ‘Temporarily closed at 2pm daily until we have a full team. We promise that we are working hard to find more members in the team.

The owners of both businesses have turned to crowdfunding for a financial boost, although only Phnom Penh specifically cites construction as a factor, with owner Sarin Tin saying on her GoFundMe page: “We are already slow due to COVID -19, now this construction is hurting our business even more.

A few blocks south on South Main, business owners who watched construction creep forward last summer remain grateful for the customer support throughout the experience and the positive relationships nurtured with contract employees performing the work.

Mark Babson, who owns and operates the Rooster Roost Brewery at 230 S. Main St., said “it’s definitely affected the parking lot” he shares with Big Fatty’s BBQ and the recently reopened Elixir, but he thinks his company has remained stable thanks to loyal premises. customers coming by bike and on foot and because the company’s main source of income comes from distribution.

Babson was grateful to the contractors on the ground who gave him “five or four days’ notice before shutting off the water,” crucial information for a brewery that needs to know “especially when they’re messing up the water lines. , because we use a lot of water in brewing.

Brandon Fox, owner of Big Fatty’s, agreed that it was nice to have more parking spaces this summer, but overall the experience wasn’t bad.

“The workers were great. They kept us informed and we fed them,” he said.

He also praised Souza, a member of the Hartford Selectboard, for keeping him and other affected companies informed throughout the process.

Fox and Babson both credited foot traffic with helping to keep their doors open during construction. This summer, they are once again welcoming those customers and attracting new visitors with their neighboring lively roadside terraces. With the new water system now in place, Babson is looking forward to the upgrade. He lit up by imagining a tasting room with seating and not one but two bathrooms.

LA Wetzel can be reached at