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Downtown fixup could hurt shops in short run

October 01, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

None of a handful of merchants interviewed in downtown Charles Town denies that the planned $5.5 million revitalization of the shopping area will mark a new beginning for the town.

They are excited about the new sidewalks over a six-block area, the acorn-shaped streetlamps that are designed to direct light downward, the dogwood and silver hawthorn trees that will be planted along streets, and other amenities.

It's getting there that worries Marcia Flanigan.

Because of all the construction that will take place, Flanigan said some of her customers have told her that once the work starts, they will not go downtown until it's finished.

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So on Feb. 15, Flanigan said she will close her newly opened Honey's catering business and restaurant for two months.

Flanigan said it will be a good time to finish remodeling the two upper floors of the building she purchased at the corner of Washington and Charles streets.

"The outcome is going to be great, but the pains in between are going to be very difficult," Flanigan said.

From Samuel Street to West Street, construction crews will rip up the existing sidewalks on Washington Street and replace them with a new walkway that will be trimmed on the outside edge with decorative paver bricks.

Central water lines will be replaced in the downtown area as part of an effort to correct a problem with low water pressure, Charles Town Council members have said.

The same work will be conducted along George Street from the Old Opera House to Congress Street, Council member Matt Ward said.

The idea of the renovation initially did not bother Flanigan, who said she had planned to run a business from the building, selling her cookies over the Internet.

But people in town convinced her to sell her pastries out of her shop and now she offers a lunch menu, too.

Business is rolling, she said. Now she will face the consequences of torn-up sidewalks. Flanigan is confident her business will survive, but she worries about other shops in town.

Some businesses in town pay high rent, and Flanigan worries that the revitalization will hurt them.

"There's going to be some people who won't make it," Flanigan said.

Terri Burhans, owner of Beyond Z, Toys for All Ages, said business owners worry about unforeseen delays in the project.

"But that's with any construction project," said Burhans.

Some merchants credit city officials for the planning they have done for the project, such as waiting until after Christmas to start the project so the construction will not interfere with the holiday shopping season.

On Sept. 10, City Manager Jane Arnett and representatives of the construction company, Casper Colosimo and Son of Pittsburgh, met with merchants at the Needful Things shop, Burhans said.

The meeting introduced merchants to the contractor so they will know who to contact if they have any concerns, Burhans said.

Ward said he realizes the project will be difficult for merchants at times. But he said the council has taken extra steps in an attempt to make sure inconveniences will be addressed.

Council members hired extra help to ensure a project manager will be at the construction site at all times to address merchants' concerns, Ward said.

Scott Coyle, Charles Town's building inspector, and Sherry Kelly, the town's new director of community development, will also be available, Ward said.

Representatives from Casper Colosimo and Son have indicated they will work some nights to reduce the amount of business disruption downtown, Ward said.

"The stores can make it if they band together with us," said Ward. He said he hopes merchants realize the benefits of such a wide-scale revitalization.

"Our alternative is to do nothing for the town," Ward said.

Dan Burhans, Terri Burhans' husband who runs an Edward Jones investment office a few doors down, said the key to the project's success will be keeping an open line of communication between the merchants, the contractor and city officials.

"If you want progress, you have to work through the little bumps in the road," Burhans said.

Ward said plywood probably will have to be laid over the sidewalk as it is being torn up so shoppers can reach stores. Contractors will complete one block at a time, and each block is expected to take about a month to complete, Ward said.

Ward said he hopes the revitalization will be completed in less than 12 months.

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