Thursday, March 5, 2009

Downtown merchants paying price now for future improvements

By Cliff B. Lewis

In the coming months, Downtown Lancaster will gain a spruced-up image due to the streetscape improvements currently underway; but for now, certain center city businesses are paying the price.

In the early '90s, Tony's Fashions, offering clothing, jewelry, and accessories at 14 S. Queen St, was patronized largely by shoppers from the Bon-Ton across the street. But ever since the department store closed its doors in 1995, business has been slow, according to Tony Luciano, the store’s owner.

Since mid-January of this year, Luciano's block has fallen unusually slow, due to construction for Downtown streetscape and sidewalk improvements. February is usually one of the busier months, but this year, with sidewalks ripped out and traffic bottlenecked along the block, Luciano did not experience the typical surge: "People can't get in or out…. My business is about more than half down."

Next door to Tony's is a Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. Today, the entire patch of sidewalk before the front entrance is being reset, leaving the business without an obvious point of entry. Costumers are being channeled through the Tony's entrance next door and then through an interior side door connecting the two storefronts. As with Tony's Fashions, this Jackson Hewitt has faced decreasing business over the past month, and with tax season in full swing, this is supposed to be the busiest time of year.

According to an engineer at the City’s Department of Public Works, concrete sidewalks and two-lane traffic should be in place within the next two weeks. However, the entirety of the streetscape improvements—including new lights, trees, and inlaid brick—will not be complete for another eight to twelve weeks.

Luciano is unsure as to whether the improvements will benefit his business in the long run. "To tell you the truth," Luciano cautiously stated, "I don’t know how much it’s going to help." Luciano sees more potential in the opening of the Convention Center, which he hopes may bring traffic from visitors and employees. Having survived 14 years across from an abandoned building, any activity is greatly welcome.