CARRBORO - Some East Weaver Street merchants hope a reconstruction project meant to breathe new life into the downtown street doesn't mean the end of the road for them.
Linda Bourne, co-owner of Spotted Dog, said the restaurant's business is down 50 percent since the approximately $1 million project began in March.
Many customers, more than a third of whom she estimated are elderly and can't walk far, have stopped coming. At lunch, she said the restaurant sits mostly empty because workers don't have time to park, walk and eat, too.
Those who do make it have had their meals disrupted by flying dirt, the smell of asphalt and rattling windows and dishes. Waitstaff tips have fallen significantly, and she and her partner are trying to hang on to all 22 employees, many with families to support.
Two doors down, Maple View Ice Cream manager Allison Nichols said her store is serving fewer customers, too, and many call first to make sure they're still open. Sales of ice cream cakes, pints and half-gallons are down, because customers don't want to risk walking too far in the heat, she said.
Other customers can no longer relax with their ice cream in the rocking chairs out front or on the Weaver Street Market lawn, because of dust and how hard it is to cross the street.
Last week, the power went out overnight, and they lost everything. Being unable to get a truck close to the store made cleanup more slow and difficult, she said. They recently met with their landlord to find out whether it's feasible to stay.
Economic director Annette Stone, public works director George Seiz and Alderman Sammy Slade have stopped by to see how they're doing, Bourne said, but she would like to see the town do more. While dirt and disruption are unavoidable, contractor Hannah Utilities of Durham could work faster, even on the weekends if needed, she said.
"I understand this is a necessary project, but the speed the company is working at is just appalling," Bourne said.
East Weaver Street was supposed to reopen in six to 10 weeks, putting the completion date at mid-June. However, town construction inspector Chad Dusenberry said it could be another 30 to 45 days before crews finish installing new utility lines, replace the dirt and apply a fresh layer of asphalt.
Sidewalks to the affected businesses could open this week, he said. Orange construction fencing is up to help pedestrians navigate the mess.
Seiz said the project's second phase, on West Weaver Street, is not expected to be as disruptive to businesses, even though it will involve replacing curbs and gutters, because drivers can detour down side streets. There's also less traffic on West Weaver Street.
"We've been detouring an awful lot of traffic around the east block," Seiz said.
The entire reconstruction project is scheduled to take a year. When finished, Weaver Street will have wider bike lanes, better storm drainage and fire protection, and it will be easier for disabled pedestrians to traverse crosswalks and driveways.
Dusenberry has been on-site nearly every day since the project started. Poor soil and deteriorated utility lines have created unexpected delays, he said.
Town officials plan to check in weekly with the affected businesses, and Stone is also looking into hanging promotional banners at both ends of the block. Portable signs were placed along East Main Street last week to direct pedestrians.
The aldermen are also considering Slade's suggestion of holding a one-day reopening celebration to bring people back downtown.
While the business owners agree it's a good idea, they're mixed about how much help it will be. Bourne said it could be a good thing for Maple View and The Beehive, but she thinks it's too late for Spotted Dog.
Beehive owner Diane Koistenin said it would be more helpful if the town also provided people with a voucher to use at the businesses.
Koistenin has relied on Facebook to update customers about construction and parking. Beehive hasn't lost as many customers, because the salon's clientele is steady and usually makes appointments, Koistenin said. However, the nail service, which they had hoped to expand this spring, is suffering.
Customers also have expressed frustration with how difficult it is to get to the business, she said. In May, the phone lines were cut, leaving them unable to process credit cards.
"As you can imagine, we have no walk-ins," she said. "As many clients have said, you have to really want to come here to get here."