PORT TOWNSEND — Downtown business owners worried about their future say they already have seen significant drops in sales since construction began on Water Street only two weeks ago.
Among them is Lois Venarchick, who owns Wynwoods Gallery & Bead Studio downtown. She said that on Sunday her sales were about a tenth of what they usually are at that time. No construction is done on Sundays, but equipment remains downtown.
“Right away, sales have dropped dramatically,” said Venarchick, who also heads the Port Townsend Merchants Association.
She said she understands that the construction is necessary and said that the crews working in front of her store have been pleasant, but added that 2018 is going to be a much more difficult year than she had expected.
Venarchick said she has heard of businesses in other cities closing due to construction and she hopes Port Townsend’s businesses survive.
“I’m just holding my breath,” she said. “My rent is high and I just want to survive. If I’m worried and my business is 26 years old and I’ve worked downtown for 41 years, I can only imagine how worried other people are.”
Construction on the $2.7 million Water Street Enhancement Project began Jan. 2. The project runs from the Port Townsend ferry landing and along Water Street to Taylor Street. The project, due to be finished in June, will move utilities underground, revamp the sidewalks and replace the 80-year-old sewer lines running under Water Street.
Many downtown business owners echoed Venarchick’s sentiments.
Since construction began, customers haven’t been able to park as close as usual to businesses and that lack of parking has been an issue for businesses directly in the construction zone.
“I think the most annoying problem for most of the merchants is the parking issue,” said Marlene Bennett-Jones, who owns Shadows Gifts and is part-owner of Mad Hatter & Company.
Bennett-Jones said sales are down from what they usually are at this time of year, but she’s hoping that will improve as the project goes on.
“The upcoming three-day weekend will be a tell on whether people are willing to come deal with the situation,” she said. “Generally that’s a good weekend for us in January and a weekend we look forward to.”
Dawn Mohrbacher has closed the doors to her shop, Bubble N Squeak Home, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays due to the construction.
She said that those managing the project haven’t done all they could to mitigate the impact of construction on businesses.
“It could kill my business,” she said.
Mohrbacher put a sign in her window that she hopes will encourage crews to work even faster. It offers free beer to road crews if they finish by March 31, well before June when construction is planned to be finished.
“I did have one of them come in and ask me which year,” she said, laughing. “The guys working the construction are nice guys. I have no issues with them.”
Frances Ayres, part-owner of Wandering Angus: Celtic Traders, said that although she’s sure her business will survive the construction, her sales are down about 40 percent.
She’s participating in Port Townsend Main Street Program’s campaign to help encourage people to visit downtown. Shoppers at Wandering Angus and other downtown shops can play the Believe it or Knot game and earn gift certificates to downtown businesses.
Merchants also have coupon books for downtown shoppers.
Mari Mullen, executive director of Main Street, said that though construction is taking up a block of downtown, there’s still parking available and plenty of reasons for people to shop downtown.
“They should come downtown and connect with their favorite merchants who are here and open for business,” she said.
Mullen said people can find parking downtown throughout the day and that parking spots in the construction zone are open between 4 p.m. and 5 a.m.
She said 37 stores are signed up for the Believe it or Knot game and that during each month of construction Main Street will hand out four $25 gift certificates. Once it’s over, there will be two $500 prizes.
In the game, participants are encouraged to find a Believe it or Knot fact, discover if it is true or false, and get a stamp on their game cards.
Those who collect 10 stamps are entered in the drawing.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Main Street is also encouraging people to write love letters to Port Townsend.
Participates are encouraged to write down three things they love about Port Townsend at any of the eight participating businesses until Feb. 14. On Feb. 17, Key City Public Theatre actors will do a performance based on their favorite entries from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Participating businesses include Lehani’s, Don’s Pharmacy, Better Living Through Coffee, Ground to Perfection, The Old Whiskey Mill, Subway, La Isla Mexican Restaurant and The Pizza Factory.
For more information about the Main Street campaign, visit ptmainstreet.org.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].