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Downtown construction creating 'a beautiful mess'

Some businesses seeing fewer customers because of limited access

DIXON – For more than 2 months, roads downtown have been blocked off, and construction equipment and holes have filled the streets.

But many businesses have remained open as the downtown streetscape project entered its ninth week this week, the first that saw a section of road reopen.

Some business owners have seen a drop-off in customers and others, with more years under their belt and more regular customers, have been able to maintain business, despite the limited access from the main roads.

Click here for a map of the streetscape work and closed roads in Dixon.

At least one business, J&J Household Furnishings, 223 W. First St., has closed during the work. A sign in the front door window on Thursday read, "Closed due to construction. Will reopen when done."

Venier's Jewelry Store, 117 W. First St., owned Mike Venier, was among the first businesses to see some of their street reopened to traffic, when the south side of First Street, between Hennepin and Galena avenues, was finished last week.

"It's gone pretty smoothly," Venier said. "I can't say that we were adversely affected at all. We were maybe 4 hours without a sidewalk [at one point]."

Venier's store is on the east side of the $6.1 million project, which was approved by the City Council in May.

The city contracted Wendler Engineering Services Inc. and Willett, Hofmann & Associates, for a combined $321,000, to provide the engineering work and design for the project.

Fischer Excavating Inc. of Freeport is being paid nearly $5.8 million for the construction work, which began the week of May 20. A portion of that will be paid for by KSB Hospital for work to a parking lot off Ottawa Avenue.

Jeff Kuhn, commissioner of streets and public improvements, said the business owners he's talked to understand the situation.

"They've all been very supportive," he said. "They realize that it's going to be a headache for them, and they might be losing a little business. And they look at the final project and that it will be worth it."

The rest of First Street, between Galena and Hennepin avenues, could be opened within a week, Kuhn said, and Peoria Avenue, between Second and Third streets, could reopen soon after that.

Justin Meyers, owner of Effervesce Vapors, 112 S. Peoria Ave., said progress has been steady, and from what he can see, the construction crews have been working hard, even sometimes on the weekend and during off-hours. 

But Meyers, who opened his business in early June, after the project started, said the work has limited access to his store.

"Yes, it definitely has," he said. "But not so much that I’m really affected now. Being a new business, each week gets better for me."

Meyers has used his business' Facebook page and Yelp, a business review website, to get the word out to customers that Effervesce Vapors is still open. But he said he said some customers who are in their 70s won't make the trip through the construction.

Others, he said, have had to walk past a sign that said the sidewalk was closed and then over the gravel to make it to his store. He doesn't like that the sign was there, he said, because the sidewalks were supposed to be open throughout the entire project, other than brief closures for concrete work or demolition.

Similar to Meyers is Amy Fenwick and her business, Roxie's Boutique, which opened in late 2013 at the intersection of Peoria Avenue and First Street.

Because Fenwick's business is relatively new, she hasn't had time, she said, to build a big base of regular customers.

"I think I'm a little less established," she said. "I have some regulars, but I don't think I have that loyalty yet to where they'll venture out and climb the mounds of gravel."

When work started a few blocks south of Roxie's on Peoria Avenue, Fenwick said she could notice a dip in customer traffic, because people weren't sure how to get downtown, so they avoided the area.

Fenwick, Meyers and Venier all have used social media to communicate with their customers that they're still open. Fenwick said she'll have a coupon out soon offering a discount for purchases during the construction.

Although all of the business owners expected some disruption from the work, some of it has been more than they expected.

Fenwick likes the fact that work is being done to both side of her block of Peoria, she said, but would have liked to know that was going to happen ahead of time, adding that the original plan was to do one side at a time. 

About 2 weeks ago, the 100 block of Peoria Avenue started to get torn up for construction. Shortly after that, Meyers said, his business and the others along the east side of that block flooded.

He's working with his insurance company to file a claim, he said.

But Meyers said he understands that the work needs to get done and said it will be good for the city.

Venier said the simple jewelry repairs portion of his business might have dropped off during the work, but added that his customers are aware of the back entrance, so it hasn't been a serious deterrent.

"It's been a mess," he said of the downtown. "But all along we've called it a beautiful mess. And it's the pains that we need to go through [to benefit the city]." 

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