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Sewer main work detours money away from Hagerstown businesses

August 18, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Mark Phillips and Diane Lim said their businesses have been losing thousands of dollars a week since workers began replacing a sewer main about a month ago at the intersection of Church and Jonathan streets.

Phillips, the owner of Rapid Lube at 120 W. Church St., said his business relies heavily on motorists who see the Rapid Lube sign, realize they're due for an oil change and pull in for service.

Because of the ongoing work, potential customers are detoured away.

A person working on the project said Wednesday that construction could take seven more weeks.

City Engineer Rodney Tissue disagreed, saying the intersection work would be completed in three to four weeks.

The construction, which is the first phase of a $3.7 million project to overhaul Jonathan Street from the 200 block to Pennsylvania Avenue, encountered unexpected delays when a large rock deposit was discovered below the surface, Tissue said.

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"We have assessed the condition of the utilities now that they are exposed and can now replace only what needs replaced," said Tissue, adding that the entire Jonathan Street project should be finished in the fall of 2009.

On a positive note, Tissue said, the city won't have to replace a sewer line that crosses the intersection from Church Street because workers discovered the line was in good shape.

Phillips said that since the intersection closed July 21, Rapid Lube has lost about 15 customers a day -- or roughly $3,300 a week.

"Anything they're doing at the intersection is just killing me," Phillips said. "My business is based on convenience. That construction took the convenience away from us."

People could reach Rapid Lube from several directions before the construction began. The only way to do so now is to drive east on the portion of Church Street that runs west of the intersection.

Phillips said he might have to lay off some of his 13 employees if things get worse.

"It's a possibility," he said. "If the customers stop coming in, there's not a need for us."

About half a block away from Rapid Lube at 54 W. Church St., the owner of Market Lot Liquors, Diane Lim, said she considered temporarily closing the store, but has too many bills to pay.

"I hope they finish it as soon as they can ... Today, if possible," Lim said.

Lim said the business is losing about $5,500 a week.

"This is really bad," she said. "I'm living out of my pocket."

Economic Development Director Deborah Everhart said during a Tuesday City Council work session that the city is considering placing seven signs near the construction site to direct motorists toward Rapid Lube.

The cost to the city would be about $209.50, according to documents.

Although installing signs to help other businesses near the intersection was not discussed, Everhart told the council that the owners of four businesses -- Rapid Lube, Terrace Liquors, Market Lot Liquors and C & M Convenience Store -- have called or written the city to complain about the construction.

The owners of Terrace Liquors, 708 Pennsylvania Ave., and C & M Convenience Store, 249 N. Jonathan St., did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

The construction has not affected all of the business owners in the Jonathan Street area.

"It's not bothering me too much," said Leonard W. Cooper, co-owner of Just Us Barber Shop, as he cut a child's hair just a few yards away from the sound of heavy machinery hammering through rock.

Cooper said a lot of his customers come in on foot. To accommodate driving customers who used to park in front of the barber shop at the curb, which is closed to traffic, the city has reserved eight spaces about a quarter block away in the Market Street Lot, he said.

"I think it was nice what (the city) did," Cooper said. "It makes it easier for me."

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