Revenue Lost as Parents Weekend Nears


Rachel Grossman

Construction on East College has been causing disruptions to local businesses for the past few weeks. According to business owners, the machinery, construction tape and uneven pavement have been deterring costumers from their respective stores.

Elizabeth Dobbins, Staff Writer

“How is anyone supposed to get through and shop here? You can just see they always have trucks out here doing construction … all month long. It’s the best time of year for a retail business. It’s the worst time of year for them to be doing this,” said Chris Heinebrodt, owner of Simply Elegant Candle and Gift.

The construction began on Oct. 1 of this year with an expected completion date of Dec. 12. The improvements involve replacing the sanitary sewer system, installing accessible pedestrian traffic signals, improving the power circuits for street lights, pouring curbs and repaving West College Street. This construction, however, is causing small downtown businesses to experience a drop in revenue during the holiday season.

Construction was initially projected to take place over this past summer, but the city did not receive any bids on the project from contractors until the third time the project was bid, pushing the start of construction back to autumn.

“Well the original delay is we bid the project in the spring for summer time construction and got no bids,” said Public Works Director Jeff Baumann. “Then we bid it again immediately to award at the end of August, but construction began right after Labor Day and we got no bids a second time, which is unprecedented in my experience.”

Baumann said that the city would have delayed the sewer replacement had they deemed it a possibility, but the sanitary sewer was overdue for replacement and should have been redone several decades ago, when downtown Oberlin underwent its last sidewalk reconstruction. Including the sewer and other projects, the city is spending approximately $5,000,000 on the downtown infrastructure.

Several business owners and employees consider the timing of the project to be their main issue. The city plans to clear some of the construction this weekend in hopes of making the sidewalk more accessible during Parents Weekend. However, Wallace Johnson, owner of As Found Gallery, said he has already seen a 30 percent drop in revenue –– perhaps more.

“It’s the timing,” said Johnson. “I look at these people who are working out here… these are hardworking people that are doing a great job, but it’s just the timing of it and the things that are happening … It’s bumbling [and] it isn’t working out very easily.”

Lorraine Morrison, owner of Carlyle Flower Shop, recently redecorated her window display to express her frustration with the construction. Tucked between an orange construction cone draped in caution tape and a heavily scratched “Sidewalk Closed” sign is a piece of paper which reads: “Thankful When This Is Done!!”

“That’s my Thanksgiving window,” said Morrison. “As it says, we’ll be thankful when this is done and [the construction is] gone.”

“I am bummed,” President of the College Marvin Krislov admitted. “It just makes me cringe.”

Morrison wrote a letter to the editors of the Oberlin News Tribune this week commenting on the impact the construction is having on her business as well as the lack of support she and her fellow local small business owners are receiving from the city.

“We have completely lost our third and fourth quarters and, again, you don’t know what it is to run a small business if you think that’s acceptable, because it’s not,” said Morrison. “It has effects on our credit ratings, it has effects on our bank accounts, our incomes.”

City Manager Eric Norenberg said that the city has been meeting with building and business owners since early March in order to discuss the construction. He has also been sending mass emails several times a week to keep owners updated on the construction’s progress.

“This is an important project, and businesses ultimately will benefit, but in the meantime let’s keep spending some money [at the businesses],” said Norenberg.

In contrast, Morrison said that she feels the city should do more than simply communicate with owners, and went so far as to suggest that it should have provided compensation for the financial hit businesses are experiencing.

“What’s happening here is that no consideration was given whatsoever to any sort of compensation to us that could have and should have been written into whatever grant they’re bustling to be able to meet by the first of January,” said Morrison.

Customers will have to find their way around construction until the final project is completed on Dec. 12.

“We find it an inconvenience, but it’s a necessity, and so it’s just one of those things that we have to deal with,” said Elaine Hammond, an employee at Smith’s Knitshop. “No time is a good time to go under construction like this … There’s just no good time. [The construction is] something that has to be done.”