West Union Businesses Suffer from Construction Whiplash< < Back to
ATHENS, Ohio — Just when businesses on West Union St. thought their construction headaches were over: bam!
“I would say this is worse than what we had before; it’s directly in front of my store,” said Mary Cheadle, owner of Uptown Dog and 10 West Clothing about new construction that began this week.
“You can’t even tell that I’m open,” she said.
In 2014, a fire destroyed most of the businesses along the north side of the street. The ensuing two years of reconstruction hurt the remaining businesses and those struggling to reopen. Their hopes brightened in the middle of March when that construction finished and the sidewalk reopened. But the businesses’ hopes for more foot traffic dimmed when the city began additional construction to create a park-like pathway in front of their buildings.
That construction, coming just weeks before graduation, couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“This is the three most important weeks of the year, and they’ve all but buried us,” Cheadle said.
All this work is a part of a blueprint for a Union Street Plaza, a plan that will further revitalize the uptown area.
During those years of rebuilding, Cheadle said business on Union Street was scarce.
“For the last two-and-a-half years, everyone has rerouted. They’ve just chosen different ways to get uptown. Most people avoided Union Street in general,” Cheadle said.
That reduced foot-traffic is why Athens Mayor Steve Patterson moved for the plaza. Patterson said a renovated Union Street could “enhance economic and social development” and add to the “vibrancy” of the uptown.
The original plan was to merge the two-lane street into a single lane in order to expand the sidewalk. His plan has since been amended to include two narrower lanes of traffic.
The sidewalk will be extended four feet on the north side of the street. The expansion will allow amenities such as lamp posts, park benches, trees, bike racks, and parking kiosks on either side of the street.
Patterson insists that traffic and parking will not be affected by the $160,000 renovation. It is scheduled to be completed by June 23.
Many businesses have expressed excitement about getting the project underway. However, in the mean time, some shops on Union Street are worried about their future.
“I don’t know that I can survive this,” Cheadle said. “Uptown Dog has been in business for 29 years, and this is the first time I’ve had to worry about its being able to withstand such a change. It’s detrimental.”
And stores that have dealt with blocked walkways and noisy construction since the November 2014 fire felt they deserved to provide some input in the plans.
“After almost two-and-a-half years of business on this street suffering – I think that they should’ve taken us more into consideration,” Cheadle said.
Cheadle said she isn’t alone in her thinking. University Bookstore, Uptown Grill, Honey, and Haffa’s Record Store are among shops that have also expressed worries about the project.
Even though they knew about impending construction, the Union Street shops and the City of Athens were never on the same page.
“I was on board with the mayor for this change, but we understood it differently,” Cheadle said. “I hate to think that came back to bite me.”
Patterson also hinted at a future plaza on Court Street, but store owners like Cheadle are worried about their current difficulties in maintaining business uptown.
“I’m invested in Athens, I’m invested in Union Street, and I’m invested in its rebuilding,” Cheadle said. “This is a devastating blow.”