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Downtown businesses pinched by High Street construction

Downtown businesses pinched by High Street construction

September 24th, 2018 by Philip Joens in News

Chris Reider wraps yellow tape around barricades on Madison Street in an effort to keep traffic off of the newly-poured concrete. Reider works for Sam Gaines Construction and is part of the crew that's been busy over the summer working on High Street and now Madison Street.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Several downtown Jefferson City business owners said they saw steep drops in business this summer because of road construction on and around High Street.

Over the summer, Jefferson City embarked on a project to even out and repave streets and sidewalks around High Street caused by bricks and railroad ties underneath the street. Work on the project began in April, when crews closed the 300 block of East High Street. Later, as work progressed into the 200 block of East High Street, business owners said they started to feel the effects.

Scott Drinkard, who owns Spectators Sports Bar at 232 E. High St., said even when the 300 block of East High Street reopened near the beginning of June, later construction on the 200 block of East High Street dampened motor and foot traffic to his business.

"I've been here eight years, and this was the worst summer I've had," Drinkard said. "It's just been a bad summer."

River City Florist owner Mike Moscato sat inside his shop at 212 Madison St. on Wednesday as workers opened up the street outside. Construction between the 200 block of Madison Street and High Street started last week. Moscato said a lot of his business is done over the phone or internet, but about 10 percent of his business can come from walk-in traffic.

The maze of traffic cones, road closures and wet concrete caused by the construction made it hard for many customers to access the part of Madison Street where his business sits, Moscato said.

"Summer is always my slowest quarter, but this one was especially slow," Moscato said. "When you block off a street like that, people just avoid it."

Jill Bednar, who owns Southbank Gift Company at 110 E. High St., said construction took place in front of her business for about three weeks. While the mess scared away some foot traffic, she said she understood the need for the improvements.

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"It looks really nice," Bednar said. "It's something that had to be done."

Other factors likely played roles in driving down foot traffic. Drinkard, Moscato and Bednar said attendance for the city's four Thursday Night Live events in June was down significantly.

Drinkard said bars in Jefferson City struggle over the summer, as people typically drink more at vacation spots like the Lake of the Ozarks. Thursday Night Live events serve as a lifeline for his business during the summer.

"Our Thursday Night Lives usually make us through the summer," Drinkard said. "This year, we were down about 50 percent."

Jill Snodgrass, an event planner who organizes Thursday Night Live, did not have figures available, but said Thursday Night Live attendance was "way down" this year. Snodgrass said poor weather played a part in the attendance decline.

Part of a building at 200 E. High St. collapsed onto Madison Street on June 7, causing a large hole to open up in the building's side. The Thursday Night Live event for that night was canceled, which all three business owners said further hurt overall foot traffic for the summer.

Representatives from Sam Gaines Construction, the city's contractor on the High Street reconstruction project, did not return calls seeking comment. In early September, the construction company told the city the 200 block of Madison Street should reopen by mid-October.

The 300 block of Madison will close Monday and reopen Thursday, according to a Jefferson City news release Friday afternoon.

Moscato, Drinkard and Bednar said they are glad the city chose to do the work over the summer instead of over the winter during the busy Christmas season.

"It doesn't help business," Moscato said. "But we're OK. At least they didn't do it in December."