“Red Lodge is open” is the battle cry from storeowners along the town’s beleaguered main street as work continues on the Water Mains Project. Foot traffic is reportedly down as is participation and ticket sales for workshops and events. On the National Day of Prayer, May 2, only the Pastor turned up at the Carbon County Court House.
But relief is on the way with new signage to be installed this week helping locals and visitors navigate their way around Broadway and hopefully encourage more trading.
The City has also announced that public parking will be made available at the Civic Center and at True Value. The project is now stretching into its 8th week and is expected to finish at the end of August but with the opening of the Beartooth Pass delayed until June 14, the upheaval is stretching the patience of some business owners. Joe Anders, who runs the Rock Shop, commented that the construction “sucks.” Trade for him has dropped in half and he is struggling with bills. On top of this, his business lies in the last block that will be completed. At Appearance Plus owner Shannon Downing is glad to see the construction crews “making better progress” but is delighted to see it “moving off my block.”
“There has been a drop in trade with older clients who didn’t know where to park. We will bounce back. We are staying busy with other services,” said Downing. At Red Lodge Books, Kathy and Gary Robson were more critical of the present situation while acknowledging that the work needs to be done. They have seen a 25 percent down turn on sales. “And last year wasn’t great either, so we’re comparing it to that,” said Kathy.
The store’s on-line sales, especially in teas, are helping to support the store. “It’s a double whammy, what with the Pass opening later and the construction blocking the door,” said Gary. They also haven’t appreciated the lack of signage around town up to now, telling people that the stores are open. “Most of us don’t have wonderful signage on the backdoor. Everybody is being cooperative, if someone trying to get to another store and doesn’t know the back door, I say come through our door. We’re all working together,” said Gary. As if on cue, Gretchen Nolan walked through the bookshop’s backdoor with her dog, Duke, to get to the Silver Run Veterinary next door because it is too difficult to negotiate along the sidewalk. Gary also questioned why the original plan of going block by block hasn’t been applied when now the construction crews are working in two block segments. He understands the late snow that disrupted work but each block wasn’t supposed to be closed for more than two weeks, now it’s four weeks in his block and up to six weeks in front of the Rock Creek Church. Both feel that the Chamber of Commerce has done what it can to promote the town. “Everyone is trying to get the word out. When you drive into town, there should be a sign that says ‘Road Closed, Stores open, Restaurants Open’ so people know that we are here,” said Gary. One bright ray of sunshine through all this is the response from locals.
“Locals are coming in and making a pointto shop in town. There are locals who are getting it and trying to help,” they said. The whole project has been nothing but joy for Amber Enos, owner of Sagebrush Sirens. “I think it's fabulous. People are parking on the side streets to get to the shops, the crews are lovely, they keep us updated and are very courteous and I loved that they have hired locally,” she said. Enos has “no issues” to speak of. “Everything is clearly labeled, and the crews are very aware of the effects on us. I’d rather have them do it now than something major happens and we have to shut down the entire town,” she said. Like Red Lodge Books who have a ‘Construction Sale’ sign in the window of their store with a shovel and a pile of dirt, and offer a children’s yellow construction hat for free on certain purchases, so Enos is also working with the upheaval and offering 20 percent off items if you make it through the construction zone. Danielle Moore of Red Lodge Lotions and Potions said it has “definitely hurt foot traffic” and has found it confusing and “unnerving” herself to know where to go. “I haven’t seen a lot of elderly shoppers. Visitors don’t necessarily know where some shops are.
They're not going to park by City Hall and walk across to the Candy Emporium,” she said. She also felt that the construction work was “scattered.” At the Candy Emporium, employee Desiree Griffith said “we stayed open while others were shut and everybody was looking for somewhere to go.” “It’s not hurting business. At least the candy store is open, everyone is freaked out, and this is like a ghost town. All the other stores being closed has sent people away,” she said. It is a different story at Kids Corner and for volunteer Judith Gregory.
“We have been enormousl y impacted. The construction has been outside our store for weeks now. It is a necessary evil, I guess, but so painful! April sales were off by 35% from last year and we did not earn enough to "cover" (vs., make) payroll,” she reports. The immediate future isn’t rosy either, with May looking even worse than April compared to Kids Corners usual sales. “We have practically no "stroll by" business, just people who need something from the store and can find a way to get in! Our side of the street has been particularly affected - the digging and equipment is right outside our door, while the other side of the street still has a full sidewalk and much less construction activity. I just hope that this will be over before tourist season, since we do a big tourist business among people visiting our town. We now have days when no one comes into the store,” said Gregory. In response to some of the concerns, Sanderson, Community Development Director, said, “The main problem is the installation of the service connections from the main to the curb stop. While some of this work is ongoing portions of the sidewalks will have to be closed so that pedestrian safety is ensured,” he said.
“On the topic of street closures, in order to get the project done as quickly as possible the decision was to bring two crews on the project and close two blocks and one intersection for each crew. The water project closures have been compounded by the City paving projects on a number of side streets as well. We are also hoping to get Oakes opened up completely next week that will help with the flow of traffic and pedestrian traffic to the businesses in the active construction zones,” said Sanderson.