2016-06-30 / Front Page

Time to Give Your Regards to Broadway

Broadway Merchants Can’t Wait For Construction to Finish
By James Merolla

With the final pavers going in along the sidewalks of Broadway, the yellow construction flags are coming down as the restaurants and other businesses welcome customers. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) With the final pavers going in along the sidewalks of Broadway, the yellow construction flags are coming down as the restaurants and other businesses welcome customers. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) The Fourth of July may mark a different kind of independence for merchants along Broadway.

The City of Newport and the State of Rhode Island have promised the beginning of the end of the construction project that has disrupted businesses for the better part of the last three years.

Shopkeepers, restauranteurs, and other small business owners are counting the days until parking spots will be fully available for customers and the sidewalks will be set in a straight line.

Reactions by merchants have ranged from outrage over the length of the project to eager anticipation of the more appealing streetscape.

“We lost $10,000 in April alone,” said Bill Purdy, who owns Newport Bicycle with his wife, Christina Erwin, at 130 Broadway. “We bought the shop in 2011, and every single month previously, you could gauge a consistent stream of revenue until they dug everything up for the parking.”

Jamey Simoes, owner of the Corner Café at 110 Broadway, said, “We are much better off than we were in January. The Merchants Association made Cardi Corp. and the DOT much more responsible. The plan is far ahead of where it was.

“On the other hand, we all lost income that no one will ever see again and no one else will remember,” he added. “We are never going to make that money back. We never thought it would take this long to pull the Band-Aid off. All of the merchants were interested in getting this project done, but it was the length of it, the invasiveness of it, that has made us tired of complaining.”

“We are anxious to get the rest of the parking done, since that is one of the biggest obstacles for our customers. It has been great seeing the loyal customers making an effort to get down to the local businesses through the construction project,” said Erwin, who is also active in the Broadway Merchants Association. "Once the parking is done, we look forward to seeing all the barrels gone and enjoying the newfound beauty of the Broadway District.”

Kyle Tormey, owner of Vinyl Guru Records, 152 Broadway, also complained about the lack of walk-ins, curtailed by months of traffic cones, yellow tape, and ropes along the thoroughfare.

“Nobody is bringing me a box of records [to sell] if there is no parking out there,” said Tormey. “But it looks nice and I’m looking forward to it being finished.”

“The city has tried to be sensitive to the needs of the businesses,” said Second Ward Councilor Lynn Ceglie. “For months, we have had weekly meetings with the city manager, director of public services, DOT, the mayor, myself, and the merchants. We have worked to make sure parking is quickly restored and have opened alternate parking lots.”

But Josh Bainton, owner of PDQ Graphics at 176 Broadway, also reported a loss in business, saying that many of his customers have been going to a printer in Middletown because they cannot park near his store.

He, too, said he has probably lost $10,000 or more of revenue in recent months.

“The worst part about it is we have lost the loading zone in front of our company,” said Bainton. “Our delivery drivers are now walking blocks to deliver. UPS picks up at PDQ at 4:30 p.m. They usually come in and grab boxes, but they have to park sometimes blocks away.”

C.J. Barone, owner of Empire Tea & Coffee, 22 Broadway, offered a positive perspective.

“I have been looking forward to this renovation for the better part of six years, when I was on the Advisory Committee that helped envision this,” said Barone. “It’s good to see the end of the progress we achieved and the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s going to be beautiful.”

Barone plans to replace all the windows at Empire, repairs that had to be approved by the city’s historic planner.

“This is a great opportunity to take advantage of the new foot traffic that Broadway is going to get to grow our business,” he said. “We wanted to invest in our storefront in order to improve the aesthetics to match the street.”

Newport City Engineer William Boardman and Director of Public Services William Riccio recognize the frustration of business owners and said the city has worked diligently with merchants to keep them abreast of construction schedules, news, changes, delays and ramifications.

“The construction remains on schedule as the work is swiftly moving through the corridor,” said Boardman. “Pedestrian traffic and vehicular traffic is being maintained as best as possible throughout the construction zone during working operations.”

The city has provided ancillary parking at the Newport Police Station, with two-hour parking currently available from 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., with unlimited parking outside that window.

Charles St. Martin, spokesman for RIDOT, reiterated that July is still the target date to complete the restoration of sidewalks and parking restrictions along the majority of Broadway, from Equality Park to Marlborough Street.

“We are still three months ahead of schedule,” said St. Martin.

But he reiterated the importance of the meetings with merchants on Thursday afternoons. “Our staff is keeping a constant stream of communications, with dates of completion and work in progress, so people know what’s coming.”

“Robin Walsh has been our point of contact with the DOT and she has been great. She provides detailed weekly updates and works to get our questions and concerns resolved in a timely manner,” said Erwin. “She also supports the weekly meetings. Many of the DOT workers have been great and we’re so glad to see their work progressing ahead of schedule."

To assist merchants during the construction, the city has also worked to develop a marketing campaign to bring both locals and tourists to Broadway businesses.

The campaign encourages a good time – shopping at great stores, meeting acquaintances, discovering six blocks of “awesome,” great eateries and bars, coffee shops, music, bike rentals, clothing, baked goods, barbers and more.

The effort features a website, and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

“The team at Worldways Social Marketing, led by Maureen Cronin, has been amazing and so easy to work with,” said Erwin. “They gathered our wide range of inputs and created a new logo, developed a beautiful webpage, kicked off our social media, and developed a brochure to help us share Broadway’s story.”

Ceglie said, “The council helped facilitate a modest PR campaign so the community would know that the businesses are open and parking is available. Broadway is a main artery and the city has a vested interest in its economy.”

“Any way we can promote the fact that Broadway is still in business is everything,” said Bainton.

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