Crews work on Delaware Avenue (Photo by Ali Hibbs/Spotlight News)
DELMAR — While businesses on Delaware Avenue, between Elsmere Elementary and the Four Corners in Delmar may be facing challenges as the roadway is under construction over the next several months, their owners are hoping loyal customers will help them keep their doors open.
“It’s one of those things that’s concerning because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Libby Thomas, an owner of 333 Cafe at 333 Delaware Ave. Thomas said that, so far, 333 Cafe has been only moderately affected as they’re open during the evening when traffic flow has been restored. But, she said, some businesses may ultimately be looking at as much as a 40 percent loss in revenue.
“We’ve all realized that, while this is something that needs to be done, it’s going to be hard on our businesses,” she said, noting that when a section of Delaware in Albany was under construction, it became “an area to avoid.” She mentioned a nascent restaurant that did close during that time.
“I don’t know if that was the reason,” said Thomas. “But I’m sure it played a huge part. I know that I avoided that area of Delaware.”
“My main concern is that people are going to assume that traffic is horrible and that they won’t be able to get to the businesses,” said David VanLuven, a Town Board member who is running for Town Supervisor in the fall. “Right now, traffic is moving really well and businesses are still open.”
According to VanLuven and Thomas, the biggest challenge seems to have been getting information about the project to every resident.
“I think the town did a good job with outreach and working with the Chamber of Commerce,” said VanLuven. “Unfortunately, no communication scheme is ever perfect, so there may be things we can learn from, but I think the town did a good job.”
Calling it surprising that many of her patrons were unaware of the project, Thomas guessed it was due to the myriad media sources available and said that she understands how it must be difficult to reach 35,000 residents — even through the multiple avenues that have been employed, such as the town website, the town newsletter and Spotlight News.
She did say that, as a business owner, she was invited to a number of Town Board meetings at which the project was discussed. While her business hours did not allow her to attend those meetings, she said, “But we knew this is something that was going to happen either way, because it’s something that needs to be done.”
“The town has been great in terms of preparing us for what to expect from the Delaware Avenue construction,” said Liam Slattery of O’Slattery’s. “The Facebook group ‘FoCo’ has also been a great advocate for reminding customers the importance of continuing support of local businesses during construction. At O’Slattery’s we have an additional entrance on Oakwood Place, off of Kenwood, so we aren’t too concerned and we know it’s all for the better good of the town and community.”
While the traffic has been kept moving since construction began in earnest in early June, Thomas is worried about how businesses, particularly those with no alternate routes to their location such as hers, will be affected once the street is actually torn up to widen the thoroughfare and replace a water main.
Noting that 333 Cafe is likely to sustain less losses due to their hours and the fact that they will be closed during the first two weeks of August, Thomas said she is more concerned about smaller businesses that are less likely to be able to withstand even a 25 percent loss. She said that she spoke to Jim Vinci, owner of Delmar Wine and Liquor, and he indicated that he would be limiting his purchasing until he sees what effect the construction will have.
Both Thomas and VanLuven expect that, when the project is completed in the fall, it will benefit those same businesses by encouraging more pedestrian and bike traffic, improving parking, and generally making the area more attractive. VanLuven noted that the replacement of the water main, which he said was installed just after World War II, would significantly reduce the threat of a water main break.
“I would never begrudge the town for making improvements,” said Thomas. “It’s just about surviving a period of less income at this point.”
Calling the obstacles to traffic flow that will be caused by the construction project an “inconvenience” to himself, VanLuven said, “For businesses, it could be a lot more serious than that, even though it’s going to generate long-term benefits. I think we, as residents, if we want to keep these local businesses, we need to make a special effort to get out and go to them.”