The long hard road for merchants on South White Street in downtown Wake Forest is almost over. Or perhaps I should say finished.
The South White Streetscape Project has been digging up and refiguring the sidewalks and streets of the towns main thoroughfare since last spring. Holly Miller, assistant town engineer, says the project should be completely done before the Christmas parade on Saturday. Thats good news for merchants feeling the strain of unsightly construction.
If its completed this week, well still have a Christmas season, said Drew Bridges, owner of the Storytellers Book Store. So were pretty hopeful about that.
When I swung by his place Monday, the sidewalk in front of the shop was almost completely blocked off, leaving only a narrow passage to the front door. I had a hard time even locating his store because all the construction had made the building hard to recognize.
When I compare my walk-in traffic to a couple of months ago when there wasnt any actual construction in front of me, its definitely been quieter in here, Bridges said.
And hes not the only one feeling the squeeze.
Its been reduced traffic since April, so weve definitely had a reduction in business, said John Shoemaker, owner of Old Magnolia Trading Company. Now that the street is repaved and theres parking again, this last weekends been really good for us.
Construction has gone on for longer than local merchants expected. The project was supposed to be completed by mid-October, but weather and other delays pushed the end date back to Nov. 21. The construction company, J.W. Grand Incorporated, still wasnt done by then, so it has been penalized $1,000 a day since Nov. 25 until the project is completed.
Weve noticed a dramatic increase in the number of workers on the street since that time period has passed, said Beth Jarvah, director of marketing and events at The Cotton Company.
The construction has been hard on her business, particularly when it comes to events. Its been a tough season with the brides having to come past the construction to come in on their wedding day, she said.
But Jarvah is excited to see the finished product, and thats a sentiment shared by many of the merchants on the street.
Amanda Giustiniani, owner of GC5 Vintage & Gifts and Pick A Class downtown, is also head of the Downtown Merchants Association. She said that initially, merchants were excited about the possibilities a prettier streetscape could bring but also nervous about what construction might do to their businesses. Much of that worry was assuaged by the town, which did a great job keeping merchants in the loop and soliciting feedback on the redesign, she said.
I have to give complete kudos to the town. They heard us. They listened to us, Giustiniani said. The end result is going to be much better for all of us.
Bridges is certainly hoping it will help his business. I intend this store to be here for a while and anything the town can do to make it a more attractive, appealing place is good for me, he said.
Even outsiders agree. Terry Moore of Raleigh was working at the Dollar General in Wake Forest all week and said the construction didnt intimidate him. He grew up in the town and is glad it is trying to improve things.
I think its really unique because the downtown area when I was here, it only had a couple of stores and all, Moore said. Revitalizing down here is really going to make a big difference.
Hopefully, by the time you read this, only the finishing touches remain. So, if youve been downtown lately and were scared off by construction, give it another chance. A less cluttered, better-looking downtown is right around the corner.