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Merchants welcome reopening of Light Street

When construction crews arrived on Light Street to repair a broken water main July 16, Department of Public Works officials told the public they’d be done in three weeks.

Victor Pascal (left), of V. Pascal Custom Tailors, talks with one of his clients, attorney Robert Rombro, Friday as repairs continue on the Light Street water main.

As three weeks became four — and then five — commuters and pedestrians had no choice but to accept the detours and road closures. They were an inconvenience.

But for business owners within the blocked-off stretch between Baltimore and Lombard streets, the lengthy repairs cost them money.

The foot traffic? Virtually gone. The parking spaces nearby? Obliterated. The appealing outdoor seating? Consumed by dust.

Sales sank, said many business owners, and their spirits soon followed.

“I want to be positive but I can’t,” said Ann Pascal, who operates V. Pascal Custom Tailors with her husband, Victor. “I’m grateful they’re getting this fixed … but there hasn’t been one person from the city who’s come in to see whether we’re doing OK.”

Several stores had to close for a few days after the break because they had no water, employees said. Because the closure was during the week, the Royal Farms store on the corner of Light and Lombard streets lost a “substantial” amount of revenue, a manager said.

“We still have some business,” the manager, who asked not to be named, said on Friday. “But nothing like what we had been maintaining.”

Workers were pouring concrete Friday morning, and said they planned to resurface the road and draw traffic lines over the weekend. Leo Almeida, a site supervisor with M. Luis Construction, said he fully expected work to be completed by Monday.

Workers from M. Luis Construction pour cement as part of the Light Street water main repairs.

The work took longer than expected because in addition to replacing the 123-year old main that burst, the DPW determined it made sense to replace several other antiquated pipes beneath Light and Redwood streets at the same time, said spokesman Kurt Kocher. The project cost an estimated $1.1 million, he said.

The wire fences and chopped-up pavement led many pedestrians to believe — incorrectly — that the sidewalks were also closed, according to Niaz Bud, a clerk at the 7-Eleven just past Redwood Street. He said the majority of recent customers have been people coming down from offices directly above the store or construction workers.

The difference is so drastic, Bud said, that management scheduled fewer clerks, even during normal peak hours. At lunchtime on Friday, no more than a handful of customers were inside at one time.

And it’s not just the slumping sales that have tried business owners’ patience. Ann Pascal said she’ll be relieved to put the “weeks-long ordeal” behind her. She said they’ve endured massive dust clouds sucked in from the streets, a ruckus from the machinery and problems with water quality, despite a temporary pipe system the city installed.

Store managers and employees from nearly every business in the affected area also lamented the haphazard conditions outside their front doors. The problems were particularly pronounced for businesses on Water Street, a cobblestone alley that was largely obstructed from view by the construction.

With traffic whizzing by on one side and active heavy machinery on the other, the unpleasant walk could deter potential customers from crossing the street, several people said. Michele Himmelman, the manager at Monica’s Spa Salon on Water Street, said walk-in business has been “impacted tremendously.”

“People avoid this street,” added stylist Pat Baker.

But walking is often the only option. Employees at the Water Street Tavern said all their street parking has been eliminated. And thanks to the noise and dust, the usually popular outdoor tables are no longer desirable — so sales are down, they said.

It has been difficult for all the businesses along this stretch of Light Street. For quick-stop stores, like the 7-Eleven, that rely on foot traffic, it’s been impossible to maintain the same number of customers, managers said, but their margins are so small that they only are profitable when they have high volume.

For a mom-and-pop shop like V. Pascal’s — one of the few remaining small businesses in the area — losing even one patron is cause for alarm.

“As hard as it is for the consumer to find a good tailor anymore, it’s hard for me to find customers to help me out,” said Victor Pascal. “This has hurt my business.”