Summertime is prime time for many stores and restaurants, but road work and other construction in downtown Albany has slowed sales at some businesses.
“There are days that certain lanes are closed, so people drive by and don’t stop because you kind of have to work to get in here. I think it has hampered things a little bit,” said Tony Pope, owner of Hasty Freez, a burger and shake stand at 655 Lyon St. S.E.
“We’ve had a lot of people pull in and say, ‘We weren’t sure if you were open or not,’” he added.
Hasty Freez will close for a week starting Aug. 14 because of work on its entrance and sidewalks, as well as construction on the new Albany downtown fire station next door.
Pope said he’d take advantage of the temporary shutdown by having his floors redone and tackling exterior projects at the business, which has been in operation since 1952.
Kaymarie Novak, general manager for Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, 208 Second Ave. SW, said that blocked intersections and other issues have made it hard for tourists and residents to get to her establishment.
But she’s trying to think long-term about the $8.5 million Streetscape Project, which will include sidewalk, asphalt, water line, storm water, street lighting, landscape and parking improvements.
“Everybody is trying to have a good attitude because the final result will be good for the community and us. Anytime you can update the downtown and help it look nice, that always encourages people to come walking through,” she said.
Christy Shaeffer, owner of sandwich shop Big Town Hero, 327 Second Ave. SW, wasn’t sure about the benefits to her business, though.
“I think it will look pretty,” she said. “I would imagine that this will just add to property taxes for our landlord, and then our landlord will increase our rent.”
This summer, there was a two-week stretch where Big Town Hero didn’t have parking in front of its storefront.
“A lot of our regular customers have complained just about how hard it is to walk around here,” Shaeffer said.
Street and sidewalk work should continue to occur through September, said Staci Belcastro, city of Albany engineer, while landscaping and tree planting will be tackled by the end of the year. Paving work, including an Oregon Department of Transportation overlay on Lyon and Ellsworth streets from First through Ninth avenues, will occur next spring and summer.
Voters approved the new $7.5 million downtown fire station, to replace an outdated station, as part of a May 2015 bond measure that also included a new police headquarters for Albany. Firefighters are scheduled to move into the building in September, Belcastro said.
Belcastro added that the city has worked with businesses during design and construction to minimize impacts.
“Construction is so inconvenient. We fully recognize that is the case,” she said.
Pope said that the city and work crews have been good partners.
No work is scheduled for Aug. 21, the day of the solar eclipse, when the area is expected to see an influx of visitors, said Marilyn Smith, city spokeswoman.
Lise Grato, executive director of the Albany Downtown Association, said that there would be marketing efforts to support businesses during the construction. She added that merchants have been waiting for Second and Third street improvements ever since a similar project on First Street years ago.
“The drawings and the plans the city has presented are amazing,” she said.
Pope is eager for the projects to be completed and agreed that they will benefit the community.
Lately, construction workers have been regulars at Hasty Freez. And the fire department, which includes some of his best customers, will have more workers downtown when the new station opens.
“We’ll just plow through and it will be nice when it’s all over,” he said.