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Loyal customers can help merchants survive project

October 03, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Merchants in the downtown area of Charles Town, W.Va., are looking forward to a $5.5 million renovation of the town's central business district. What they're not looking forward to is the disruption the construction will cause to their businesses.

The only real answer to this dilemma is to appeal to the citizens who value these businesses to keep patronizing them, despite the inconvenience.

The project will cover a six-block area and will include new street lights, walkways and plantings, as well as a new water line to improve water pressure. Work won't begin until after the Christmas season and will proceed a block at a time, with the project set to take no more than a year to complete.

City officials have already taken some positive steps to keep businesses viable during the project by having merchants meet with the contractor, who's agreed to work some nights to minimize the disruption.

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In addition, the city has promised that a project manager will be on-site at all time to address any concerns. Scott Coyle, the city's building inspector and Sherry Kelly, the director of community development, will also stay in close touch, according to Councilman Matt Ward.

Once construction begins, we recommend that street closings be well publicized, with signs on the street a week in advance. Work that will block streets should begin after the morning rush hour, if possible, so commuters aren't dodging heavy equipment on their way to work.

But what it really comes down to is a commitment by citizens to put up with some extra inconvenience to help these businesses survive.

It takes time to get a downtown business going, because typically they're not national chains but independent operators who survive not because they have a gigantic assortment of merchandise, but because they provide outstanding service. And they'll only be able to provide that service in the future if citizens stay loyal customers as the project proceeds.

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