Not surprisingly business managers along Washington Street are glad to put the summer of 2003 behind them this Labor Day weekend.
It was not the hot, dry weather or the soft economy particularly.
It was road construction.
When the season started with visions of traffic jams there was considerable consternation on how bad the summer may be.
Dan Holmes, Ace Hardware manager, took a moment between customers on a busy weekday afternoon to look at the numbers.
Holmes said he thought business would be off to a greater extent but added he was ready for the reconstruction project to be completed. Looking at the computer record from the summer months, Holmes said business sales have been about 15 percent off a normal summer.
"Customers have been pretty loyal," he said. "They really fought their way to get here."
While Ace Hardware did not cut back on staff, it did leave a summer position unfilled because of the Highway 210 project.
Holmes said he found traffic patterns did change with people avoiding the construction area completely and using alternatives like Laurel Street. But Holmes said things were not nearly as bad as they could have been. He said Anderson Brothers and the Minnesota Department of Transportation bent over backward to work with them. The weekly meetings provided an outlet for businesses with concerns either as a group or individually.
And the construction did not just affect businesses directly involved in the construction zone. Ed Menk, Brainerd Economic Development Authority, said businesses in downtown Brainerd also reported feeling the ripple effects of the construction work. Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union downtown stayed open later because of the construction.
At Walgreens, the non-pharmacy business has been down about 10 percent.
"We will definitely be happy to see the construction finished," said Michael Polzin, Walgreens spokesman based in Deerfield, Ill. "It is one of those necessary evils. ... Construction did have an impact."
Polzin said the pharmacy business held up pretty well. Polzin said good sales increases have occurred at the Brainerd location since the store opened about three years ago. Even with experience gained from other cities and other road projects, Polzin said each location is a little different.
"You are never quite sure how a road project is going to affect a store," Polzin said.
But he said Walgreens expects to bounce right back.
"That is what we are looking forward to now," he said.
Brian Karl, of CJ's Auto Wash along Highway 210, said it has been a little bit of a battle all along. Karl was working with an electrician Friday, recovering from a lightning strike that disrupted computers and originated from Thursday's brief storm. Karl said he was hoping to celebrate the highway's opening with champagne and balloons before the storm signaled him out.
There have been battles during the summer for businesses in terms of early utility work that left them without services or access confusion amid construction. Now entrances are back in full use at CJ's.
"It's nice to see it open again," Karl said of the highway. "It is good for the heart."
At Burger King, owner Ray Richard said the business people he talked to said the pace was down from a normal year but not as bad as people expected.
"We all went into this as kind of a guessing game," Richard said.
McDonald's closing to rebuild was an unexpected benefit. Summer hiring at Burger King was later than normal in reaction first to the construction and then picked up after McDonald's closing.
"Our summer will be down from normal," Richard said, but he said it will not be down nearly as much as it could have been. Richard said sales were down about 25 percent in the beginning and then worked closer to being even with a normal summer.
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