Workers in hard hats push for-ward on the repair work on the downtown Bothell Main Street construction project. Pedestrians are stepping along unfinished sidewalks and listening to the sounds of jackhammers and construction vehicles.
Small business owners such as Michelle Mack have experienced a slowdown in activity since the roadway project began in April. Many are holding out hope that work will soon be completed and that the final product will make up for the dip in profits.
However, they are going to have to wait longer than expected. Possibly until winter.
“The target was to finish before the Thanksgiving holidays because we know and recognize that is the busiest time for businesses,” said Nduta Mbuthia, the lead engineer of the downtown Bothell revitalization project. “I don’t know the date we are going to finish because we haven’t got a full schedule from the contractor. As soon as we get that we will post it online.”
Mack, the owner of a consignment store on Main Street called Alligator Purse, says she and others were annoyed by how the city had failed to notify them. On the website for the Main Street project (http://www.bothellwa.gov/433/Main-Street-Enhancement), there is a hotline, manned by a consultant for the city, for people to call when they have any questions or concerns.
Not every business knew this hotline existed.
Mack said she also didn’t know they would be working on Main Street until about two months before the construction began.
“I heard from the grapevine, from my business neighbors, that we needed to start saving our pennies because we were going to do this big project,” Mack said. “I needed some information, we had no emails, no flyers had to come to us, nobody from the city walked in to talk with us at all.”
The first word Mack heard from the city was when the city asked her to use her back door as an entrance so the front sidewalk could be fixed, she said. This was in spite of the door not being ADA compliant and inaccessible by wheelchair.
“When you open your doors, you have to make it open for all of your customers,” Mack said. “You can’t say ‘you’re in a wheelchair so you can’t come into my shop.’ That sets you up for a big-time lawsuit.”
A possible reason why Alligator Purse was not notified is that it is one of a handful of businesses that is not part of the Bothell Chamber of Commerce. Using the emails from this list, Mbuthia conducted initial outreach in 2015 to alert affected businesses about all upcoming projects.
Not all businesses on Main Street have had issues in communication. Hillcrest Bakery has been in continual contact with the city and attended meetings held for business owners to ask questions about the current construction.
“Every single person who comes in here asks about it,” said Olivia Meyer, who joined the staff in May. “That is probably the most irritating part. It has slowed down business some, but we have been here for over 50 years, so if people wanted to get here, they will get here.”
George Marshall opened The Bine Beer and Food on August 3. For him, the extra effort to do the move in and start his restaurant while all the construction is going on would be worth it in the long-term.
“When we started off, the street was open, but mid-project everything had to be brought in from the parking lot out back,” Marshall said. “It is not ideal for anybody, but again it is about the final product. It is just going to be a brand new city by the time they’re done with it as far as downtown area goes.”
The road and sidewalk in front of his restaurant will be closed as part of the second block closure that will begin at the end of October. Marshall said he and the city have been working on setting up one of the side doors as an entrance.
The city has reached out to the community to say that these businesses are still open during construction. Mack pointed out that the construction crew themselves have been very gracious to pedestrians, helping the elderly cross the street and never causing too much of a commotion.
Aware of the financial impact the project has caused, Mbuthia said she would like the business owners to know that the city is still supportive of these shops, cafes, and restaurants.
“These orange cones and yellow tape scare people away,” Mbuthia said. “I encourage people and the public to keep supporting our businesses, to keep coming and spending their money there, to keep the businesses alive, to keep the street vibrant.”