Main Street construction creates concerns for New Albany businesses

Dec. 2—NEW ALBANY — Dan Hardesty, owner of Eureka Menswear in downtown New Albany, said the ongoing road work on Main Street has been "devastating" for his business.

He is one of the local business owners voicing concerns about the effects of the city's Main Street Revitalization construction project, which has affected foot traffic and sales for downtown shops.

"I think it would be very ironic to see closed businesses on a brand new street that gets refurbished and beautified, but I think that's what you're going to see if this continues like this," Hardesty said.

In September, the City of New Albany began its $5.5 million project to improve and beautify the downtown Main Street corridor. The project extends from State Street to East 5th Street.

The ongoing work is the second phase of the city's Main Street Revitalization Project. According to New Albany City Attorney Shane Gibson, the project is on schedule with completion expected for August of 2023.

"The City is working diligently with contractors to expedite the process and minimize the impact on local businesses," Gibson said Thursday in an emailed statement to the News and Tribune. "Once completed, the improvements will be a great addition to downtown and benefit local businesses and residents for decades to come."

The revitalization will transform the downtown corridor on Main Street with the rebuilding of the roadway, widened sidewalks, new lighting, new traffic signals, landscaping and an updated stormwater drainage system.

The first phase of the Main Street Revitalization project finished in 2014, and it featured improvements to the portion of Main Street extending from East 5th Street to Vincennes Street.

New Albany City Engineer Larry Summers previously told the News and Tribune that the project requires construction crews to maintain access to Main Street businesses and residents for the duration of the construction project, which includes keeping one direction of traffic open for drivers.

The current construction work has shut down portions of the roadway and sidewalks on Main Street. At shops such as Eureka, crews are working on the street close to the shop's entrance, and while there is still a pathway to reach the shop, the sidewalk has been taken out.

Eureka Menswear relocated to Main Street from Market Street in April. Hardesty said when he opened the consignment shop on Main Street, he experienced a few weeks of "some of the best sales we'd ever experienced," but he didn't know about the construction ahead.

About a month after the shop opened, Indiana American Water began a months-long water main project on Main Street, which was also disruptive, he said.

"When we moved from our Market Street location to this location, we basically doubled our sales," Hardesty said. "Now we're about half of what we did at the old location. [On Wednesday], we had two people come in, and the day before, we had one, and the week before, we had four. We were averaging about 34 to 50 a day when the sidewalks were open and parking was available."

Since the water main project, the shop has been operating on "damage control," he said.

Hardesty said although people can technically get to his shop, it is a major deterrent when they see the road and sidewalks torn up in front of the storefront. It is a particularly difficult situation during the holiday season, which is traditionally the busiest time of year for small businesses.

Although his Main Street shop remains open for business, Hardesty recently set up a small pop-up shop on 115 E. Market Street in downtown New Albany to help draw in more business. The pop-up opened on Small Business Saturday, but between the two locations, the shop still didn't see the kind of business expected on the busy shopping day, he said.

Michele Finn also opened a business along the Main Street corridor this year. She opened Michele's Apothecary, a shop selling CBD and essential oil products, in September at the Underground Station at 37 Bank Street in downtown New Albany.

She said she wasn't prepared for the slowing of foot traffic that came with the construction.

Only a handful of people have visited the shop this week, and although parking is available nearby, people have been confused about where to go amid the construction.

"It's definitely been very discouraging as a brand-new brick and mortar," Finn said. "I had no idea that this construction was going to be going on. It's very concerning, because I have rent to pay now."

Finn said she does not regret signing the lease to her shop, but she probably would have waited a year to open the shop if she had been aware of the way the construction project would affect business.

She would like to see grant money available for businesses to help them during the construction project.

"I love this space, so I feel like this is the perfect space for me," she said. "I feel like when the construction is done that it's going to be a great spot to be in, but just trying to build a small business, a brick and mortar with the street torn in half is a little much."

Cisa Kubley, owner of Sew Fitting at 156 E. Main St., said the construction has been "debilitating" for her business. Even though the sewing and alteration shop does not rely on walk-in traffic like some, she has still seen a "a huge hit" to income.

"Like if something doesn't change, we will have to close," she said.

She said she believes the beautification of Main Street "will be lovely when it's done." However, she worries that businesses will not survive to benefit from the completion of the construction project.

The City of New Albany has put up multiple signs around the Main Street corridor informing people that the businesses are open. But Kubley said she is concerned that people still do not know how to safely get to the businesses amid the construction, and she has been frustrated with the city's approach to the project.

Although sidewalks have been torn out, a small pathway is providing access to the local businesses in the middle of the construction. However, Kubley said she is worried about safety and accessibility for people with balance or mobility issues.

Damage to buildings is another of Kubley's concerns, and she says Sew Fitting and other historic buildings on Main Street are facing issues related to vibrations from the construction work, including crumbling bricks and damage to exterior trimming.

As the construction continues, Kubley said she and other business owners need funding to stay afloat, and she would like the city to consider "some kind of assistance" for affected businesses to offset losses.

Hardesty also wants to see more effort from the city to mitigate the effects of the construction for business owners, including potential financial compensation for losses.

"A city like New Albany is made special by small businesses, and the different businesses that incorporate the downtown give it the flavor," he said. "And for us to continue to make New Albany special, we need the handcuffs taken off."