Jefferson St. construction slows downtown business

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


Construction comes at a cost and unfortunately for businesses on Jefferson St., they have to pay up. A decrease in local shoppers has caused sales to drop, despite their best efforts.

?Business slowed to a crawl,? said Sam Riepe, owner of the Vintage Raven. ?It was completely and absolutely because of that.? Riepe reported April sales were down 40 percent compared to last year.

To keep business up, he ran promotions and contests on the shop?s Facebook page. ?What we were trying to do is make sure people knew we were still open and still here,? he said. ?We?ve had a lot of people just assume everything was closed even though it wasn?t.?

Though this helped some, Riepe attributes non-local traffic to having helped the most. ?For us, quite honestly, it has been out-of-towners that have been really helpful for us. It?s been tough to get downtown, but its far more of an inconvenience for locals than it was for out-of-towners,? he said. ?If you?re coming here because it?s your destination, you?ll figure out how to park and you?ll walk a block or two.?

Despite the drop in sales, Riepe says the project wrapped fast and can count that was a positive from the experience. ?It did go very quickly,? he admitted. ?But yeah, it was a real tough time.?

Hy-Vee Drug not only saw a decline in sales, but was unable to market some of their products. Traditionally, their garden center is outside but due to dust in the air, they had to delay it?s opening. ?We were concerned about how that would affect the plants so now that (construction) is done, we can start bringing more of that in,? said store director, Willy Amos.

He reported that most customers continued to support the business, but consolidated the number of trips they took, because of the construction. He said he heard some customer complaints, but most were glad to see the city doing something positive and would be glad when it was over.

?It was certainly impactful, but I think it went fast enough that really we were disrupted for just three solid weeks. We?re definetly seeing traffic pick back up,? he said.

While traffic increases at Hy-Vee, Michala Lenley at A Head of the Rest says sales have continued as usual. ?The salon wasn?t effected that much because we already have standing appointments, and then our clientele shop at the boutique,? she said. ?I think being on Monroe versus on Jefferson helped out a lot.?

Megan Denning at Le Chic Boutique agreed, saying she did not see a decrease in the amount of customers. ?It?s hard to tell,? she said. ?But I think you have to have a positive vibe on it too, and realize that they?re bettering your community and you just have to make it what it is.? She attributes the success of the business around her to being instrumental in her success during the renovations. ?I get a lot of customers from the salon too. They?re not going to stop coming, you always have a lot of customers in there so some of their customers come in here and that helps me too,? she said.

S. Jefferson has yet to open but Jim Miller at Brown Bear?s Basket Antiques is waiting patiently for that day. ?Our problem here is we have several dealers who can?t walk a block or two,? he said. ?That?s taking away from those dealers.? Brown Bear?s has around 20 dealers who keep items in the shop to sell. Because of difficulty accessing the store, Miller estimates a half-dozen dealers have stopped coming.

Fewer dealers is equivalent to fewer sales. From their usual intake, sales are down over 60 percent. To help raise awareness, they?ve begun putting pictures of the construction on their Facebook page. He hoped that by showing people the sidewalk was accessible, it would encourage community members to stop-in and shop. ?The great news is its wonderful when it?s done, but it?s rough (until then),? he said.

Lisa Oetken, Main Street Director, says the construction has been in the works for a few years now. ?We brought in promotions specialists form Main Street Iowa and had a meeting before it started, (in order) to have a plan,? she said. The chamber has been sharing updates posted by the businesses, trying to help them gain customers. She says many people look at the construction as inconvening business and stay away, but that is not the case. ?I think they always think they can get it another time, (because) they don?t wan to bother people. It?s not a bother,? she says. She encourages the public to keep shopping and visiting the downtown locations during and after construction to keep the city alive. ?The square is the heart of Mt. Pleasant,? she said. ?If it?s not healthy, the rest of the town won?t be healthy.?

The construction on N. Jefferson St. began in April and wrapped up earlier this month. The intersection between Monroe and Jefferson was opened last week with plans to open the rest of the street early next week. ?We?re right on target, (and) hoping to finish up on Monday (June 4) at the latest,? said City Administrator, Brent Schleisman.