By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Members of the Middlebury Business Association (MBA) on Tuesday urged selectmen to put pressure on the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) to make sure that next year’s scheduled repaving of downtown roads does not choke off customer traffic to local stores.
More than 20 downtown business owners packed the board’s conference room to voice their concerns about the state’s plans in 2007 to mill and repave Main Street from the Middlebury Congregational Church to the Cornwall town line; Route 125 (College Street) from Main Street to the Cornwall line; and Route 7 from Creek Road to just north of High Street.
The state has budgeted for the multi-million-dollar project to occur within the fiscal year 2008, which begins on July 1, 2007. Local merchants fear a late summer/early fall work schedule, which would coincide with one of the most lucrative shopping periods of the year.
“Everyone in this room knows how disruptive a project like this is going to be,” said Nancie Dunn, owner of the Sweet Cecily shop on Main Street. “Some businesses could not survive this (project) happening.”
She noted that businesses in the College Street area have already lost considerable business this year due to an ongoing reconstruction project on that busy street.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger said that while the town may not be able to influence when the work gets done during fiscal year 2008, the AOT has given its assurances that downtown repaving will be conducted between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in an effort to minimize disruption.
Still, the prospect of nighttime work does not come as great news to local restaurants, such as Eat Good Food and Two Brothers.
Pip Vaughan-Hughes, co-owner of Eat Good Food, said construction disruption of dinnertime business during the summertime could be economically devastating.
“July and August is when we are looking to store around 70 percent of our nuts for the winter,” Vaughan-Hughes said, metaphorically describing the importance of the summer season. He said a substantial loss in summer business could pose a “terminal disaster” for the restaurant.
Merchants also reminded selectmen that prolonged construction projects have killed businesses in other Vermont communities, such as South Burlington.
Bruce Hiland, an owner of the Battell Block and an MBA board member, suggested that the local business community form a committee to keep the selectboard and the state informed about merchants’ concerns about next year’s repaving projects. Selectmen encouraged the MBA to take such action, and served notice they would do what they could to minimize hardships on local stores during construction.
“We certainly support local businesses and want to do all we can to make this work as smoothly as possible,” Selectboard Chairman John Tenny said.