BONNERS FERRY — Road construction can be a trying time for drivers as they creep through the work zones, but they are not the only ones affected. Many of the businesses along Highway 95 have taken a financial hit.
The road construction has made it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for customers to reach the businesses. There is confusion as to where to turn, and other drivers do not want to tackle trying to turn in or out of the construction zone.
Some businesses have been hit hard, while others seem to fare well despite the inconvenience of the construction.
“The volume of calls has increased. It didn’t affect the business because our scheduling is a week ahead,” said Leilani Medearis, the office manager at Moore Chiropractic. “They want to know which road to get in, especially if they are coming from Sandpoint.”
“We would like to thank everybody who comes in in spite of the road construction,” she added.
Jay Wages, the owner of Les Schwab, also said that the impact to his business was minimal.
“If people have needed to get in, they have found a way to get in and get their services done,” said Wages. “I think that it may have affected us a little bit, but overall my sales have not dropped off.”
There are businesses that have suffered severe impacts financially, especially new businesses.
“The construction has had a definite impact on our small business,” said Sarah Jenkins, Battle Grounds owner, about her coffee stand. “We are unfortunately down under 50 percent than before the start of the project.”
Clover & Co., which is in its second year of business, has also been impacted by the roadwork. In April, they lost a total of 16 days, when there was no access to their business. They bounced back a little during May and the first two weeks of June.
“It’s been rough. Our sales have been down about 50 percent compared to last summer,” said Clover & Co. owner, Norma Umphress. “People just don’t come in because they can’t get in. Bills have been paid and lights are still on, but sales are not flourishing.”
For many of the businesses, they rely on the summer sales to carry them through the slow winter months, so the construction is hitting them at a tough time.
“We made it this far … it is going to be up to the community to see if we make it further,” said Umphress.
Customers are key for the businesses, and many local people have gone out of their way to continue and support their favorite businesses.
“We know it’s been difficult and sometimes an adventure to get to us, but we greatly appreciate everyone who has continued to grab their grab their cup of joe,” said Jenkins.
Umphress expressed her love for the support she has received from local shoppers.
“Enough people have come in to keep us going,” she said.
For businesses that rely on a large percentage of business coming from out of town, it has been difficult. People from out of town are not familiar with the back roads that may make access easier.
“Somebody from out of town — they are not going to try and figure it out,” said Realtor Leah Sandelin for Shelman Reality.
Despite a local booming real estate market, Sandalin explained that her numbers are down.
“The days that I am in here — the walk-ins and the people stopping by from out of town — I have not seen it this low in the three years that I have been here,’ said Sandelin. “I can only attribute it to one thing. Even I have trouble getting in here and I have lived here my whole life.”
Nikki Robinson, an employee at the Far North Logo Shop, has also struggled with being able to get to work, sometimes being 10-15 minutes late. Despite the tough times, the Logo Shop was proactive, offering delivery to their customers to try and avoid loss of business, as well as to make the process easier on their clientele.
“It was something that we offered, because we figured with the construction, it might help people to still come to us with their business,” said Robinson.
Despite that, they have had some loss of business due to the construction.
“It depends on the day. Some days we have nobody in here because they can’t get in here,” said Robinson. “We will have people come in here and complain because they can’t get in here, or people will call and say they are coming another day because they are not even going to try to get in.”
The businesses were quick to point out that the flaggers and construction workers have been extremely supportive and helped in any way they can.
“We’d also like to thank all the construction crews — they’ve supported our business and are always polite,” said Jenkins.
“These guys have worked their tails off,” said Umphress. “They are doing everything that they know how to do, to be friendly and get it done as quick as possible out there. In their defense — they are tired too.”
Along with flaggers stopping traffic to help vehicles pull in and out of businesses, much credit has been given to the drivers themselves. Local drivers have taken it upon themselves to stop for other vehicles, allowing them access.
“Kudos to everybody in Bonners that lets everybody in, the traffic that lets everybody merge, or get across the road,” said Wages. “I think the local people have been really great in that regard.”
At this point, it is unclear how much longer the businesses will have to endure the situation. The pavement that has been laid down could possibly have to come back up again, depending on the results of tests that should be coming back this week.
“ITD tests materials put down by contractors on construction jobs to ensure that taxpayers are getting what they paid for in terms of quality,” said Megan Sausser, Idaho Transportation Department public information specialist. “In this case, ITD’s test results for the first lift of pavement did not match the contractor’s own test results.”
The results now go to an independent third party to verify either the contractor’s or department’s numbers.
“If the test by the other lab matches ITD’s test results that indicate the pavement is not satisfactory, the state could require the pavement to be replaced or to reduce the contractor’s compensation for the existing pavement,” said Sausser. “If the test matches the contractor’s results that indicate the pavement is satisfactory, then the existing pavement will stay in place.”
Either way, the struggling businesses expressed their thanks to the community — to those people who have taken the extra time to reach them — and support them.
“It is something that we have to work through as a community,” said Wages. “It’s going to be really nice when it is done.”
Umphress also expressed that she looked forward to the finished product.
“It will be beautiful,” she said.