Local businesses continue to survive as construction nears completion

The intersection at South Limestone and High streets closed Thursday. Construction for Limestone is going according to plan. Photo by LeeAlan Yates

By Roy York and Tom Shearman

Concrete is not on the menu at Hanna’s on Lime, but a few customers have started to comment on owner Beth Hanna’s new item — a sidewalk.

It has been a while since she has had one.

For more than nine months, small businesses on South Limestone Street have fought to survive the $13 million streetscape project that has halted nearly all foot and vehicle traffic on Limestone. But as the project nears completion, business owners say they are just looking forward to seeing the work finished.

“It’s been an interesting experience, from one day having 17, 000 cars drive by your business to the next day zero, and it’s kind of been a cumulative effect,” Hanna said. “I’m just hanging in there and hoping that when it gets done in the next six weeks or so, that things will get back to normal.”

The construction has disrupted foot and vehicle traffic on Limestone from the corner of Avenue of Champions to High Street, and some students find the situation almost hazardous.

“If I want to cross the street, I have to walk all the way down the street to the crosswalk, which is sometimes unusable because there’s stuff in the way like machinery, so you’re almost in the way of cars that are passing by,” freshman Maison Morgan said. “I always feel like I’m going to get hit.”

For some businesses, getting back to normal will mean climbing out of the red ink they have been drowning in for the past months. Peter Mashni, owner of Mashni Tailor Shop, said he lost 80 percent of his business since the construction started and said some weeks he would make as little as $20.

Mashni said his business depends on foot traffic from downtown lawyers and other professionals, but the construction has turned even some of his most loyal clients away.

“I’m ashamed to admit it, but I got so far behind on all my bills,” Mashni said.  “You know I’m a grown man, and I hadn’t asked my dad for money in 10 years, but in this past year I had to ask him for money every month, and it was embarrassing for me, but I had no choice.”

Not all business owners have chosen to wait for things to return to normal. Past the piles of gravel and torn asphalt, the bulldozers and backhoes, and the dust and mud, Liza Hendley Betz and her Irish import shop, Failte Irish Imports, are dusting themselves off after relocating from Limestone.

“It was so bad up there that it will take a little while before we get our feet in the ground,” Hendley Betz said. “We’ve got a lot of bills that we need to get paid off before I feel very comfortable.”

Hendley Betz said her business was down 40 to 50 percent when she moved in March 2010, but she has seen great improvement with her new location beside McCarthy’s Irish Bar, located on South Upper Street.

The diversity of business on the street has presented many obstacles for owners, and students too are looking forward to seeing the finished street.

Morgan said as the construction is finished, it will probably bring students downtown, “but as it is right now, it just makes it harder to get downtown.”

Despite the continued procession of heavy machinery down Limestone, business owners believe things are looking up. Poured pavement and sidewalks checkered with blue and red brick are an indicator of things to come.

“Two months from now … I’ll be the happiest business owner in Lexington,” Hanna said.