ELKHART — Frequent commuters to downtown Elkhart might be inconvenienced by the Main and Prairie Street closures.
But a local business owner said his gas station may tank because of it.
Ruby Singh is part owner of a Marathon station on Main Street and Prairie.
“We just opened it in January, and in five months they told us (Main Street is) going to be closed for six months,” he said. “It’s going to be very, very tough for us to survive.”
The station, which depends on passing auto traffic for most of its business, already saw a big drop in business during the few days since Main Street has been closed, Singh said. He anticipates the same result for the next six months while construction is going on.
“It’s affecting us so bad,” he said. “Probably just walk-in customers will come in, no cars.”
Until about mid-November to early December, Main Street will be closed for construction between Indiana Avenue and Willard Street. Prairie Street will also be closed, between Park Avenue and Stocker Court. Traffic will be detoured from Indiana to Benham Avenue.
Contractor Rieth-Riley is required to maintain access to Main Street businesses through side streets, accessible from McDonald Street from the northeast and Indiana Avenue from the south.
Despite this, Singh expects a sharp decline in business. He said he’s considering asking other owners to approach the City with him and ask for more help. He’s worried about utility bills and employee payroll, as well as paying off the building’s mortgage.
“This is a complete set-down,” he said. “The city’s got to do something to help us with something, otherwise it’s going to be very tough.”
Leslie Biek, city right-of-way engineer, said business owners worried about their profits during construction can talk to Rieth-Riley and city officials about putting up extra signs to inform customers about the detour.
“We don’t provide subsidies,” she said. “But they can place additional signage directing people to their businesses.”
Biek said to her knowledge, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church was the only organization that contacted Rieth-Riley about signage by Thursday.
The St. Vincent facility is only accessible to vehicles via Stocker Court off Prairie Street. Sean McBride, director of communications for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said he thinks church members will be able to find their way there.
There’s still good news for downtown Elkhart, however. Dan Boecher, president of Downtown Elkhart, Inc., said he doesn’t think the detour and street closure will have much effect on downtown business.
“I truly feel the draw people have to live, work and play on Main Street is going to be able to overcome minor irritants (like) finding alternate ways to get here,” Boecher said. “I don’t see a downside as far as inhibiting traffic ... I do agree that we need to be proactive in getting the word out here.”
Andrey Niko, of Elkhart Starter and Alternator on Main Street, said he has not seen business affected by the closure yet, but he expects to. He said he wasn’t sure how the auto store would or could prepare against losses from Main Street closing.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Niko said.
Faith Mission thrift store, which provides income for Mission programs and clothes for Mission clients, is just inside the closed section of Main Street. Executive director Ross Swihart said he’s worried about both customers and donors who might have trouble getting to the store because of the closure.
“It can’t help us,” Swihart said. “I don’t want to complain, it’s just that from a business standpoint it makes it tough to operate.”
In the meantime, Faith Mission will accept donations at its main location at 801 Benham Avenue, Swihart said, and the thrift store will remain open. The mission will put up signs reminding people the store is still open. Swihart and his staff will pass out flyers explaining how to get there.
“The reality of it is the road’s closed and that’s going to shut off the traffic that comes through and sees you,” Swihart said. “But if we want better roads we gotta expect some inconveniences.”
Additional reporting by Tim Vandenack