SEQUIM — The closure of the McDonald Creek Bridge along Old Olympic Highway has been an inconvenience for Agnew residents and for some a financially tough situation.
Chris Frankfurth, owner of Agnew Grocery & Feed at 2863 Old Olympic Highway, said he’s seen some tough times since the bridge closed July 10, with sales down about 40 percent since the closure.
“Our best months are June-December with January and February typically the slowest months,” he said. “The summer months are what get you through the winter months.”
Clallam County officials said the McDonald Creek Bridge could reopen sometime in March. The date is tentative.
Drivers are detoured around the bridge, using roads such as Kitchen-Dick Road or Shore Road as alternate paths to access Old Olympic Highway from U.S. Highway 101, or vice-versa.
However, as thousands of vehicles are re-routed along Old Olympic Highway, that means little to no traffic going to Agnew Grocery or other local businesses.
“When the bridge first closed, there was still a lot of support,” Frankfurth said.
“Now that it’s dark out sooner, we’re just not seeing as many people.”
To compensate for less business, Frankfurth cut back on the store’s hours on Sundays, now open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and cut hours for his seven employees.
He’s also put up a sign at his Frankfurth Auto Body shop on U.S. Highway 101, where he works to offset costs of the grocery store, saying “Agnew Grocery still open next three rights.”
To add to Frankfurth’s worries, his grocery store was broken into twice since the bridge closed with the most recent July 24.
An Agnew man faces charges of sawing through the floor and stealing the security system and cigarettes.
Frankfurth said the break-ins were the first since 1995 and that the second break-in cost him more than $5,000 in damages and losses.
Frankfurth continues to keep tradition with wine tastings each Thursday in the grocery store.
Joanne Eriksen, who lives on the east side of the bridge but makes the trek to the store, said, “we don’t mind driving the long way around, but we look forward to having a straight shot.”
“I plan to coordinate a party for the day [the bridge] reopens,” Frankfurth said.
Pat McElroy, the bridge’s project engineer for Clallam County, said construction on the bridge is ahead of schedule, and that staff with Orion Marine Contractors Inc. of Tacoma anticipate a finish date of Feb. 28 barring weather conditions.
Orion has through April to complete the bridge under a $3.07 million bid through the county to replace the former 1957 bridge and widen it from 24 feet to 40 feet.
McElroy said Orion is remaining close to its budget as well.
As for the official opening date, McElroy said that depends on the weather because county staff will need to schedule paving the bridge, which could be difficult in wetter months.
Earthen walls are being formed this week, McElroy said, and in January the concrete deck for the bridge will be placed.
“It’ll definitely start looking more like a bridge then,” he said.
Aside from Agnew Grocery, other area businesses say the impact hasn’t been as bad for them as predicted.
Dr. Nicole Wagnon, owner of Blue Mountain Animal Clinic, 2972 Old Olympic Highway, said she and her staff have had to be more lenient with appointments and schedules as people continue to adjust to the bridge closure.
“We have to roll with it,” she said. “Fortunately, it hasn’t been as bad as we prepped for.”
Wagnon said when customers are late for appointments they either forgot about the bridge closure or were tied up because of a car wreck.
“Thankfully, there hasn’t been any bad weather, which will make it slippery,” she said.
During Sequim Lavender Weekend, McElroy said special signs went out to direct drivers to the area’s lavender farms and businesses.
County staff had to apply for special permits through the state Department of Transportation to place signs on U.S. Highway 101 directing drivers to Agnew businesses by Shore Road.
Closed and directional signs are placed along Old Olympic Highway, too.
Wagnon said she and other business owners continue to relay customers to each other to help out.
Ann Johnson, co-owner of Lazy J Tree Farms at 225 Gehrke Road off Old Olympic Highway, said their Christmas tree sales haven’t been impacted but that they have fielded a lot of calls about the closure and where to turn.
“It’s annoyed the customers,” she said.
Johnson’s hope was for more signage for special events at businesses.
“It would have helped all our businesses,” Johnson said. “We keep sending people [to other businesses] and they keep sending people here.”
Regardless, Johnson said it’s a fun time to be in the tree business seeing four generations of familys visit her farm.
“The customers make it so fun,” she said.
Kelly Johnston, co-owner of Johnston Farms, 1046 Heuslein Road, Port Angeles, said his farm focuses mostly on deliveries in the area and with the bridge closed it adds about 5 minutes to his drive time when going to Sequim.
In the winter, the farm doesn’t see much traffic come in though but he is enjoying not having “traffic noise buzzing by me” while working outside.
“From a personal perspective, I like things rural,” he said.
For more information on the McDonald Creek Bridge closure, visit www.clallam.net/roads/ McDonaldCreek.html.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].