Downtown: As South Main Street construction is about to begin, business owners generally less stressed this time around

Don’t worry South Main Street, nobody forgot about you. Now that the North Main Street phase of the two-year construction project is done, you’ll be getting a face-lift starting in the spring – or whenever the snow goes away. It sure will be nice when both sides of Main Street look all shiny and new. (TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff)

They will encourage customers to park in the Storrs Street garage. Some will encourage deliveries for customers who are reluctant to pick up. At least one will extend hours, staying open later in the evening.

Mostly, as construction begins on South Main Street, business owners will look north.

“Point to North Main Street,” said Mike Cohen, owner of Pitchfork Records. “And say, ‘Hey, don’t you think it’s going to be worth it?’ ”

By its completion in November, the Main Street project will redesign and rebuild nine blocks of downtown. Like the north end, the result will be a two-lane road, instead of four, with wider sidewalks in most areas. Concord has planned to spend more than $11 million for construction, design and marketing. Part of that money came from a $4.71 million federal grant.

The North Main Street side was completed last fall, and work on the east side of South Main Street begins this week. Starting today, the northbound lane between Pleasant and Theatre streets will be closed for several months. The southbound lane will be open to traffic, and free two-hour parking will be available in the work zone.

In July, construction will switch from the east side of the street to the west side. The northbound lane of traffic will reopen, and the southbound lane will be blocked off. The work is scheduled to finish in November.

Downtown business owners say they are bracing for the impact construction might have on their revenues, but they agreed what they saw up the road last year was reassuring.

“If the anxiety level was a 10 last year, it’s like a 1.5 this year,” project spokesman Brett St. Clair said.

St. Clair is a partner at Louis Karno & Co., the firm hired to market the Main Street project. Part of the PR team’s responsibilities are to communicate with business owners and field questions about the construction. In particular, they have promised storefronts and driveways will always be accessible during business hours.

“People had questions,” spokesman Alex McIntire said. “I think as soon as everybody heard they were going to have access to their driveways, and they could get in their door when they needed to be, they were like, ‘Oh, great.’ ”

Even critics of the project on North Main Street have praised Severino Trucking Co., the general contractor hired for the job. Several business owners said they had heard positive feedback from friends on North Main Street, and in their own observations, they had been impressed with the crews they saw working last summer.

“From talking to the people, Severino did a good job of creating their own reputation,” McIntire said. “Their reputation has certainly spread to the south end. Everybody is saying, I heard such good things about them. They did themselves a lot of good there.”

That’s not to say there’s no anxiety.

“I don’t think anyone is particularly jazzed about having a big hole in front of their store, for obvious reasons,” said Aryn Marsh, owner of Live Juice. “But I think it will be worth it.”

Marsh is among those bracing for the impact of construction, but she said she’s prepared. Like many of her neighbors, she plans to direct customers to side streets and the nearby Storrs Street parking garage while spaces are limited on South Main Street.

She has incorporated delivery into her business in recent months, in part to prepare for a decrease in foot traffic. Because the Live Juice menu is built on fresh fruits and vegetables, Marsh said she can’t let ingredients sit and go bad.

“A lot of lunch places live and die by that lunch hour,” she said. “We do deliver. That’s something I consciously did to ramp up a couple months ago, knowing that catering might help the business.”

Other restaurants, like O Steak and Seafood and Constantly Pizza, also said they will emphasize their delivery options.

“The biggest thing I’m trying to remind (customers) – if they get frustrated with coming down, we deliver,” said John Constant, co-owner of Constantly Pizza.

Cohen, who owns the record shop on the corner of Main and Pleasant streets, abutted last year’s construction, but he said his business didn’t suffer. As construction starts, he plans to stay open until 8 p.m., rather than 6 p.m. The goal is to stay open longer for people who want to avoid the active construction. But he noted longer waits for dinner at local restaurants and more foot traffic downtown, and he said Concord’s growing night life might encourage him to make the later closing time permanent.

“These places are jamming now,” he said. “I think that there’s more activity downtown than there was two or three years ago.”

The nearby Storrs Street parking garage is key for businesses like Red River Theatres and the Capitol Center for the Arts. Events and marketing manager Katie Mosher said she plans to promote information about that garage on the movie theater’s social media pages and website.

“We’re going to keep rolling with the punches and keep aware of what’s going on,” Mosher said.

Nicki Clarke, executive director of the Capitol Center, said she purposefully held off a series of shows for school kids until November, steering clear of construction. She said the contractor and the PR team have been working with her to work around busy dates for shows and events at the venue. And based on what she saw last summer, she’s confident the crews will be accommodating.

“I’ve heard nothing but great things from people up there,” Clarke said. “I spent a lot of time last summer just walking through the construction site, and seeing how they were handling it – I just love the touches of them putting down carpets in front of walkways when it was down to dirt. The construction company just really went out of their way to be helpful to people.”

Michele Talwani, vice president of economic development and marketing for Families in Transition, said she has been assured donors with car loads of items or trucks with furniture deliveries will be able to access the driveway at the nonprofit’s OutFITters Thrift Store Boutique.

“We need to make sure that the box truck can pull up to get those items into the store,” she said. “You can’t be carrying a couch two blocks.”

Because the thrift store is a revenue stream for the nonprofit’s programs, surviving the construction project will require an appeal to the nonprofit’s supporters, she said.

“We’re a little different because 100 percent of our proceeds pay for housing and social services,” Talwani said. “We’re just counting on the community to realize that we’re ready for them to still support us in both shopping and donating.”

Newer business owners tend to be more wary than those with an established customer base. Rachel Ward, who opened What’s In Your Closet Resale & Gift Boutique in October, attended a public meeting about the project last week. Ward’s shop is just outside the scope of major construction, but she’s worried pedestrians won’t be walking around that area.

“If they’re not going to be able to get down here, are they going to avoid us altogether?” Ward asked. “I want to make sure people realize businesses are down there. I’m just going to keep pushing it: Don’t forget about me.”

For more information about the Main Street project, or to sign up for regular email updates about the construction, visit concordmainstreetproject.com.

A creperie in Concord

Christina Hoppe grew up in Concord, and she’s always wished for more restaurant options in her city. Next month, she’ll take matters into her own hands.

Hoppe and her former co-worker, Melina Ambargis, are opening The Little Creperie at 138 N. Main St. at the end of April.

“Now that Main Street is getting nicer, I feel like it’s a good time to be presenting people with more options,” Hoppe said.

The menu is predominantly crepes and waffles, both savory and sweet. The kitchen will serve some classics – a Nutella-and-banana crepe, for example, or a crepe with chicken and mornay sauce. (Ambargis’s mom dug that recipe out for the menu.)

“It’s kind of like old-school French, but a little bit different,” Hoppe said.

Others – the macaroni and cheese waffle – will be more unexpected, and Hoppe said the list of specials will be adventurous.

“You can put a lot of things in a waffle iron,” Hoppe said with a laugh.

The Little Creperie will also serve salad, coffee and tea and, on Sundays, mimosas. Prices haven’t been set yet, but Hoppe said she didn’t expect any items to cost more than $12.

The two women have worked in the food service industry before, and they both quit their jobs in sales and marketing to start this new venture.

“We both left the 9-to-5 to start this,” Hoppe said. “I’m really excited about it.”

The restaurant will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Orders will be placed at the front counter, and diners will choose their seats between tables and bar stools.

For more information, visit thelittlecreperienh.com or The Little Creperie page on Facebook.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, [email protected] or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Read more at: http://www.concordmonitor.com/news/21740838-95/downtown-as-south-main-street-construction-is-about-to-begin-business-owners-generally-less

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