A cross section of the Columbia Avenue Complete Street Project.

A cross section of the Columbia Avenue Complete Street Project.

Castlegar business owner fumes as Columbia Avenue construction threatens livelihood

Many businesses report impact, but still acknowledge work is necessary

  • Jul. 4, 2018 12:00 a.m.

Chantale Breton sits gazing out the window of her hairdressing salon on Columbia Avenue, fuming as the excavator digs up the road outside her business.

“Since they started working on the road, they’ve blocked the entrance, and the traffic is not right for me,” the owner of RiverSide Hair says.

“I had lots of walk-ins before, now I have nothing … I am seriously screwed this time.”

Breton is one of dozens of business owners whose shop faces onto Columbia Avenue. The $7.1 million road construction project is upgrading underground infrastructure, doing improvements to lighting and sidewalks, and building bike lanes between 13th and 17th Avenues.

RELATED: Construction on Castlegar’s main road begins Monday

Most Columbia Avenue businesses in the construction zone contacted by the Castlegar News said the roadwork had affected their business.

“The first week, I had two customers. Two,” says Breton. “And the second week, I had 10. I have lost 75 per cent of my business.”

“On a typical day I would have 14-16 customers. Now I have three a day. It’s 4 p.m.. My last customer was at 2:30.”

Breton’s business relies heavily on walk-in traffic, but she’s not the only one. At Ace of Vapes, a few doors down, business has been slow too.

“It has definitely diminished since construction,” says manager Ryan Whitney. “But I noticed now we are starting to get a little more foot traffic since [digging] moved down the street a bit.

“It wasn’t crippling, but we could notice a drop because how difficult it was to get into the business.”

It was quiet in Cartwright’s Pub in the late afternoon, with a handful of customers filling a table or two.

“It’s not affecting us as bad as I thought, but it is still affecting numbers,” says co-owner Kate Cartwright.

“We are down about 30 per cent.”

Cartwright says access to the bar from the road has been the biggest problem, and they’re especially seeing a drop in summer traffic.

“This time of year, we get tourists lots of the time,” she says. “We are not getting them now. They don’t want to stop.

“Who wants to stop in this?”

Even the Tim Hortons is expressing some frustration with the impact the traffic has had on business.

“The construction has hurt our business a great deal, especially heading into the summer months,” said Nicole MacMillan in a written statement to the News. “It has felt like a long process already and we are hoping it will come to an end soon.

“Our sales have dropped,which is unfortunate, however we know this construction is well-needed for the city so we are looking forward to the completion date to benefit from the work.”

While all the businesses said they have been losing money, many also said they understood the need for what’s going on, and actually were satisfied with the communication they’ve been receiving on the issue.

“I understand what they are doing. I know it’s a necessity, they’re not just trying to make the street nicer,” said the Ace of Vapes’ Whitney. “They’re adding a bike path and I know what they are actually doing is important and I support that.”

“They said, ‘How’s it going Steve, is there anything we can do to make it better for you?’,” added Steve Cartwright, the pub’s co-owner. “I really appreciated that.

“They’ve been doing the best they can do with the situation, and we have to deal with it. And it’s nowhere near as difficult to get back and forth as it looks.”

The Chief Adminstrative Officer of the City of Castlegar says they worked hard before construction even began to communicate with businesses about the city’s plans, and included in the contract a provision that the construction company had to hire a business liaison person for the project.

“It was a city priority to make sure that access was open to businesses, that traffic was going in both directions, so that no one would hesitate to stop at those businesses,” said Chris Barlow.

He says the city is also posting new signage, both online and in the construction zone, to encourage people to shop in the businesses in that area.

He says business owners with concerns should contact the city or contractor.

“If there are specific things that can be addressed, then we’ll try to address those,” he says. “Everyone understands this is a time of disruption, as long as we can minimize that… the end product is the real prize. The street will look amazing.”

But when you’re hit as hard as RiverSide Hair’s Breton has been, it’s hard to be as charitable.

“I’m pissed off,” she says, adding she thinks there should be monetary compensation for lost business.

“I went [to City Hall] and asked if they were going to help. They said ‘you knew this was coming, you have to be prepared for that’,” she recalled. “But how do you prepare for this?”

Compensation is not so far-fetched as it sounds. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business issued a report recently saying municipalities should adopt a coherent construction mitigation policy that would include a compensation program. The report notes Belgium, and the U.S. city of Seattle, make provisions for compensating businesses during construction.

According to the report, seven of 10 businesses were dissatisfied with how municipalities handled the impact to their operations during construction.

Count Breton among them. She says she doesn’t think she can last until the project is finished, in November.

“I went and applied for other jobs already, I have no choice,” she says. “If nothing picks up, I am closing my doors.”

Trail Daily Times