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With work nearly finished, Mystic merchants happy to be back in business

By Chuck Potter

Publication: The Day

Published July 23. 2012 4:00AM   Updated July 23. 2012 10:56AM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Dave Barros, left, and John Brennan, with Pettini Contractors, attach a decorative shroud around the base of a new lamppost Friday as tourists make their way along the newly improved sidewalks of West Main Street in downtown Mystic.

Groton - The streetscape construction is winding down, and business - and hope - are looking up in downtown Mystic.

Sort of.

West Main Street has new sidewalks, a freshly paved road surface, new street lights and granite block entryways into the shops and restaurants.

On Friday's drizzly, overcast afternoon, a construction crew worked under a tarp on the north side of the street, near Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream. Another crew was busy on the corner of West Main and Water streets.

Yellow caution tape protected a collection of bricks and other material at the entrance to Peacock Alley, the strip of shops and iconic gathering place for young people, between the main strip and the Mystic Arts Center parking lot.

Still, bustling foot traffic wended its way around the few remaining projects where, just six weeks ago, merchants in the tourist village were imploring town officials to shut down a project they said were sending sales spiraling.

That didn't happen, but the pressure the merchants exerted on the town to respond to their needs helped, said one business owner.

"We turned the corner," Dona Williston, owner of Finer Line Gallery and Framers of the Lost Art, said. "As people realize the construction is gone and the traffic is back to normal, I hope to see more local people."

Williston said the merchants' trips to Town Council meetings and meetings with construction manager Rick Norris helped move the project along. The town took steps to get Pettini Contracting to work longer hours and do some of its work during off-hours. The town also provided $50,000 in free parking in the Mystic Art Center lot.

"We learned a lot, Williston said. "When they plan these kinds of projects, it's important to listen to the needs of the merchants and the community at large."

Geralyn Socha, of Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, who used to be co-chairman of the local merchants association, had a similar sentiment.

"The end result will be great. The way they went about it was horrible," she said. "The town could have done more to ease the stress on the businesses. So many things were said but never done, I resigned. But the end result will be good."

Williston said business has picked up since the paving was completed two weeks ago. She said it's hard to judge if that is the result of construction nearing its end or the free parking.

"It's better, but not great. There are a lot of variables," she said. "But those things helped."

Gina Cary, at Catherine M., a women's clothing store, said business there began to pick up after Memorial Day.

"We've been doing good, considering," she said. "The last two weeks have been really good."

She cited ice cream sales as a sign of success.

"Business was awful during construction, especially on this side of the street. But you can tell it's picking up. People are walking by licking ice cream cones."

Socha, of Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, said sales improved soon after the paving was completed.

She said the store usually closes for a week or two over the winter, mostly for cleaning and maintenance.

"This year, we stayed closed until mid-March," she said.

Norris, the project manager, said because power lines were buried as part of the project, utility companies have to now remove the old lines and poles.

He said some work in front of Bank Square Books and on some side streets has to be completed.

Inspections by the state public works and Department of Transportation engineers will result in a final punch list of tasks that he hopes to have completed in time for the Mystic Outdoor Art Festival on Aug. 11-12.

c.potter@theday.com

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