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As construction pushes forward on Main Street, businesses wonder where the customers have gone

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cars navigate along Main Street during heavy construction. Business owners say sales are down significantly because of road work.Bull dozers and hard hats are the predominant landscape in downtown Tigard these days, as construction crews begin work on a long-anticipated project to help revitalize the city’s core.

Orange traffic cones and barriers have lined Southwest Main Street for weeks, with flaggers directing lines of traffic down the densely packed street.

There’s just one thing it’s missing, said Terry Neddeau, who runs the Tigard Liquor Store on Main Street: Customers.

“Customers don’t want to deal with it,” Neddeau said, as work crews demolished a sidewalk across the street from her business.

Shops up and down the construction zone have seen business noticeably drop since work began a few weeks ago.

“It’s horrible for me,” Neddeau said. “It’s a thorn in my side.”

The Tigard Liquor Store has been a staple of Main Street for decades, but Neddeau said foot traffic and sales in the store are down 30 percent since construction began.

“Foot traffic is gone,” she said. “I’m worrying if I will get my customers back when this is over.”

Like many businesses on Main Street, Neddeau’s store relies on people popping in and out of the shop, she said. That activity has all but dried up.

“I was in tears last week,” she said. “I was just a mess.”

And it’s not just her.

“I see it affecting everybody,” she said.

An informal survey of downtown businesses along Main Street revealed most are being affected by construction and have seen dips in revenue of about 20 percent.

“They are all hurting,” Neddeau said.

Down the street, Tigard Wine Crafters relies largely on by-appointment customers. That business hasn’t changed, said owner Sharon Sand, but she hasn’t had walk-in customers for the better part of two months.

“We are losing that business every week,” she said.

Sand, who opened Tigard Wine Crafters in 2010, said she loses about $100 a week because of construction.

“We are a very small business, so $100 is significant to me,” she said. “No one has been walking in. I lost all my regulars.”

‘I have nothing now’

With construction scheduled to continue through November, Neddeau said she could see some businesses shutting down.

“When it’s done, there might not be some of us here,” she said.

Neddeau said she’d like the city to set up a hardship grant to help compensate struggling businesses during construction.

“I did not know the impacts,” she said. “Nobody said that we could lose 30 to 40 percent of our business. I’m down to nothing. There’s no extra money, and we can’t pay some of my bills. I’m barely swimming. Everything I’ve saved, I’m pulling it all out, and I have nothing now. Who knows what next month is going to be.”

Assistant City Manager Liz Newton said that the city does not have plans to provide financial support for businesses during construction, but the city can do a better job of helping businesses address their challenges.

“It doesn’t affect each business the same way,” Newton said. “We need to do as much as we can to communicate with each business on an individual basis.”

Newton said the city is working with businesses seperately to see what can be done. “Is it that customers can’t get to the parking lot, is the business not visible, do they look closed because of the construction?”

City officials plan to embark on a messaging campaign to help people understand that downtown is still open for business, Newton said.

“Any day that customers are impacted is a day too many,” she added. “My hope is that businesses are not feeling these intense impacts for 14 straight months. There will be some impacts, and then it will be eased up.”

Kim McMillan, a city planner in charge of the project, said the city has made sure to partner with businesses to ensure they are up to date with construction plans.

“Where we do our best work is one-on-one with them, helping them,” McMillan said. “Nobody would wish this on anybody, but we want to do the best job possible.”

The city has set up a website, provided stores with signs and flyers for customers and maintains a Twitter account devoted exclusively to work being done on the street, McMillan said.

McMillan also hosts weekly morning meetings where business owners and other stakeholders can learn about the project and share grievances.

“From my end, we are trying to do everything to let folks know what is happening,” she said.

Neddeau hopes it’s enough.

“I would hate to see some of these people fold and see businesses go under,” she said. “That defeats the purpose of beautifying Main Street. It would make it a ghost town — deserted.”