Road work affects business

Friendly Planet Trading Co. to close; blames construction

Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2005

Juneau's reconstruction of Seward Street has uprooted not only rotten water pipes but also one downtown shop, according to a business owner.

Friendly Planet Trading Co., a gallery and furniture store at the intersection of Second and Seward streets, is closing and blames the construction tools and trucks that have blocked the store's front door.

"We are right at the worst corner of the construction," said Richmond Kelly, co-owner of Friendly Planet. "We've lost close to 90 percent of our business during the past three and half weeks."

The city is giving Seward Street a $4.6 million makeover to beautify downtown in hopes of drawing foot traffic and boosting business. The city plans to put all the electrical utility lines on the street underground and pave the sidewalks with bricks.

The affected area encompasses Seward between Front and Fifth streets and Second, Third and Fourth streets between Main and Franklin streets.

In the meantime, two private projects that are going on at the Charles Goldstein Building have clogged the already congested Second Street. Heritage Coffee Co. on Second Street is expanding and Subway is moving next-door.

The Seward reconstruction project will be completed by October, said city project engineer Karen Blue.

Rorie Watt, the city's chief capital improvement project engineer, said the city has tried to engage business owners in the process.

"We are trying to have better signage or let some businesses have access through their back doors," Watt said. "I encourage people to keep coming and patronizing the businesses."

Since Feb. 22, Seward from Front to Second streets has been blocked as construction crews are replacing the street's water and sewer lines and installing a new storm drain system.

This phase of the project will be complete in mid-May, before the tourist season begins.

During construction the city has tried to keep sidewalks open, but owners along Seward said their business has suffered - perhaps not as badly as Kelly's.

"The business is slower than usual," said Claudia Pierce, who has owned Hudson's Shoe Store for 16 years. "A lot of people from the Valley are afraid to come to downtown, knowing that there is limited parking. We are looking at two very bad months."

Pierce said she hopes the summer sales to tourists can offset the losses.

"The construction has to happen sometime," Pierce said. "I am happy that they are doing it now instead of summer."

Rob Cohen, owner of Capital Records, said his business has been affected lightly.

"This time of the year is always challenging for us to break even or not to lose too much until summer gets here," Cohen said. "We have had a number of days that are slower than usual because of parking and the sidewalks."

But Cohen said the construction workers seem to work at their maximum efficiency and have done a good job in keeping the access open.

Kelly said he has lost $30,000 since construction started. Expecting to lose $60,000 more in sales in the upcoming months, Kelly decided to close Friendly Planet at the current location permanently.

"The city didn't realize how drastically the construction would affect local businesses.," Kelly said. "The city should have helped us offset our losses so local businesses can stick around."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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