Friday, April 18, 2014

Businesses report slowdown during holidays

Fall construction project taking heat for downturn in shopping

January 09. 2014 10:19AM
Ken Silva

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Retailers across the nation experienced a 3.5 percent spike in sales during the holiday season, but some Oberlin businesses are reporting a downturn.

Downtown construction projects in the fall diverted traffic and closed parking on West College Street, which had many business owners in an uproar over being disrupted during the most important shopping time of the year.

Those businesses came through the holiday season with mixed results.

Some, such as the Velvet Turtle Salon, were able to cope by making more house calls and relying less on walk-in traffic.

Others, such as Bead Paradise, reported no downturn at all despite a lull in business when construction was right in front of the shop on 29 West College St, according to store associate Silvija Koschnick.

But some say they were badly hurt. Smith’s Furnishing & Floor Coverings owner Chuck Smith wasn’t shy talking about the damage he attributes to the construction, saying his store saw about a 40 percent reduction in sales.

“It’s the worst year we’ve ever had for business,” said Smith, whose shop has been open since 1951. “You can’t print what I really want to say.”

Carlyle Gift and Flower Shop owner Lorraine Morrison said she’s seen similar results.

“I’d say we’ve probably seen about 20 percent, which is devastating,” said Morrison on the decline in business. “December was good, but September through November was way off to the point that it really hurt.”

The construction project — the replacement of a 350-foot sewer main and its laterals, as well as the repaving of West College Street and its south-side sidewalk — came at such a poor time because no companies placed bids from early spring of 2013 all the way to September, when Don Moulds Inc. finally accepted the job.

Public works director Jeff Baumann said the delay was the longest in his 12 years working here.

Morrison said she was disappointed that she didn’t see the city do more to assist businesses during the hard times.

Though there’s not much the city as an entity can do to financially support the businesses, she said the city workers themselves could have patronized them more as a show of support.

“If they really felt bad about it like they were saying, they should have come down here to make up for the difficulties they caused,” she said. “Talk is cheap.”

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