Downtown project has business owners weary

107-year-old hardware store may have to close its doors
Annette C. Silva

Established in 1893, Seaford's oldest hardware store may soon be no more.
"It's been tough since they began tearing up downtown, but we hung in there because we thought it would help the town," said Ron Marvel, part owner of Burton's Hardware with his brother Rick.
"But things really went south when they changed the traffic to one-way."
Marvel said it all comes down to paying the bills. "Our business is off at least 70 percent now and we've got at least three more months to go until the city says the work may be done."
Originally, Marvel said, downtown business owners were told at special meetings held by the city that the major infrastructure overhaul would be completed by Thanksgiving of 1999.
"Then they told us it would be March 1st, and everything would be beautiful. Now they're saying July, and they've restricted the traffic to one-way. Our customers are going somewhere else and even when the downtown is done, we won't get some of the customers back."
Marvel said he was supportive of the downtown efforts for a long time, "but they hold these meetings and say things are going to be done and then they aren't, so I quit going to the meetings." On 13 April he called the city to ask if they could open up at least the first block to two-way traffic and was told no.

How are other downtown merchants coping?
Karen Pedemonte, co-owner of Bon Appetite, is frustrated, too. "Sure we're tired of the dust, rubble, inconvenience and delays.
"Our elderly customers don't come in as much now because the walkways are difficult for them, but we aren't considering moving. We're going to tough it out; our clientele find a way to get to us because we offer a unique product. We've remained positive because I think the final result will be good for the town; also, I believe we need to try to keep our spirits up."

Regarding meetings held prior to the construction, Pedemonte said, "The town led us to believe that they would do one section at a time after the storm drains were done—that hasn't happened."
"I stopped going to the meetings the city held because it seemed they weren't taking the suggestions anyone made into consideration," said Pedemonte.
She said she suggested the city do one side of the street at a time and was told that it wasn't possible. "There are so few store owners downtown now that we don't have enough influence, I guess."
Pedemonte said she was sorry to see the bank move out of town. "And now the Post Office is going. If Burton Hardware goes too, there won't be any downtown."
Patricia Ryan of Caffe Sarajevo wasn't available but her employee Betty Pozsgay said, "Our five-star customers are hanging in there, but out of one good day we have five that aren't so good. This has affected us over an extended period of time."

Not a great time to open a new business
"In retrospect, we probably didn't pick a great time to open a new business," said James Brambila of Main Squeeze, a new juice bar and sandwich shop at the corner of High and Pine Streets.
"We're going to try to stay open, but since they turned the street into one-way traffic, we've lost over 50 percent of our business." Brambila said his partner, located in New Jersey, is suggesting they move the business out to the highway, but, "My wife and I would like to stay here if we can."
As of 1 p.m. on Friday, April 14, "We've had two customers. Usually Friday is a good day for us." Brambila said some of the downtown business owners get together and try to keep each other's spirits up, "but we still have to keep paying the bills with little coming in."

Businesses offer suggestions for city
Some business owners offered suggestions that could make their businesses a little more viable during the downtown dust-up.
Karen Pedemonte said the flaggers have been helpful in directing traffic but, "some large signs at the entrance to High Street and out on the highway listing the businesses downtown and how to find them would be helpful."
Brambila said that if the city really wanted to help businesses survive this trauma, they could offer some kind of financial subsidy. "Even if they offered to help out with the electric bill, or some incentive to help cover the losses, it would be something," he said.
A potential sojourner to downtown preferring to remain anonymous said, "I don't consider going through there because it appears impassable."
She suggested the city offer some positive information to passersby and some encouragement and incentives to business owners.
"A billboard out on Route. 13 to apologize to everyone for the mess downtown and urging people to remember the businesses downtown would help," she said.
Marvel said his request to open up the first block to two-way traffic could have been considered, at least for a few days a week. "They just said no."
Instead of the three months downtown merchants anticipated having the town torn up, "We're going into 9 months to a year of major business losses," he said.