Cratered and ripped open, Arthur Street in downtown Elmira is impassable save by foot or heavy machinery. And while this construction is affecting the number of cars coming into Elmira via the town’s main artery, it appears area businesses are faring quite well under the circumstances.

“The construction’s being received really well – we’re very pleased. I have no complaints about the construction at all,” said Krista McBay, owner of Elmira Home Hardware and chair of the Elmira Business Improvement Area (BIA).

Naide Zacharczuk, owner of the Sip & Bite Restaurant in downtown Elmira, has found business relatively steady throughout the construction process that has closed access to the core via Arthur Street.
Naide Zacharczuk, owner of the Sip & Bite Restaurant in downtown Elmira, has found business relatively steady throughout the construction process that has closed access to the core via Arthur Street.

“Everyone’s really positive about it: they said that people are coming in, still getting people from Waterloo and they are following the detour signs. The township has done a great job with signage. … Actually, our sales are up.”

When the news broke that the main drag would be closed on a stretch in front of the high school to undergo a $2-million infrastructural overhaul, some merchants in the downtown area worried the work would deter potential customers, especially those from the surrounding areas, from coming downtown. But there was no alternative.

“Unfortunately, where Arthur Street is and the amount of construction that has to happen, there was just no opportunity whatsoever to kind of do one half and do the other half – we’d be there forever. It just makes a bad working environment to try to maintain traffic through a construction site with that amount of work that has to happen,” said Rod Kruger, Woolwich’s manager of engineering operations.

The Arthur Street job is an infrastructure renewal project funded through the Building Canada Fund, which sees financial contributions by all three levels of government, federal, provincial and local. It will see the replacement of water pipes and sanitary and storm sewers underground, and new concrete curbs and sidewalks to go with fresh asphalt. Similar work is being done on Brubacher and Second streets as far west as Snyder Avenue. Even the street lighting will be upgraded.

Kruger, who lives near Arthur Street, said he hopes Elmira residents will understand the value of the project.

“It’s been a long time coming. The infrastructure needs to be replaced and this is funded in part by both the federal and provincial governments … it’s good bang for the buck from the taxpayer’s point of view.”

Despite predictions about the disruptions to downtown merchants, it appears that the construction work hasn’t yet taken too huge a toll on business.

“I don’t really believe that it’s affecting us too much – it is little bit, maybe,” explained Naide Zacharczuk, owner of the Sip & Bite Restaurant on Arthur Street.

“You don’t get a lot of that drive-through traffic coming through – but we’re always busy here,” she said noting that the large parking lot at the back of the restaurant helps.

“At the end of the day we’re still really doing well here,” she said, conceding that activity at the restaurant has waned slightly on the weekends as through-traffic drops slightly.

Both McBay and Zacharczuk note that for the most part, the township’s signage directing traffic though various detours is proving effective.

In addition to this, the township plans to run advertisements in local papers encouraging residents to spend their money in town, and explaining the closures.

As far as Kruger is concerned, Woolwich has taken an aggressive approach to the problem, and is eager to have the project finished on time, if not sooner.

“This is a significant amount of construction happening in a very short time – they’re even working through the rain and everything else. They’re giving it their full 110 per cent shot at it,” he said.

“We’re on time and trucking right along.”

Arthur Street is set to open by July 17. Construction will then take place on Brubacher and Second streets with a completion date foreseen by Labour Day. A regional project on Church Street, which will widen the intersection at Arthur Street, is set to start in late July. This latter project, however, is not as intensive and shouldn’t take as long, said Kruger.

Three weeks into a project that  is to last at least another month, merchants have yet to see whether the combined factors of the summer holidays and prolonged road closures will eventually have an impact on the number of visitors doing business in town.

For the meantime, however, many are confident that the advertisements, the signage, and positive attitudes will keep traffic coming through.

“I think it’s just a matter of a little inconvenience but it’s still worth the trip,” said Tami Runstedler of FB and Me.

“It’s building a better community.”

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Marc Miquel Helsen
Marc Miquel Helsen was a photo-journalist for The Observer. Currently Marc is a Web Editor at The Vancouver Sun, a Teacher at International Language Academy of Canada, and aWriter - Journalist - Editor - Proofreader at Marc Miquel Helsen Editing.