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Small business owners take sales hits amid downtown New Albany road construction

Small business owners in downtown New Albany say months of construction along Main Street has hit sales. Community members raised more than $10,000 in two days to support the locally owned shops and restaurants, and more relief could come from the city.
Aprile Rickert
Louisville Public Media
Small business owners in downtown New Albany say months of construction along Main Street has hurt sales. Community members raised more than $10,000 in two days to support the locally owned shops and restaurants, and more relief could come from the city.

Months after the COVID-19 pandemic put her out of work, Stevie Carper got the opportunity to realize a lifelong dream in late 2020.

She’d stumbled across her grandmother’s candy recipes and put them to good use, first at the New Albany Farmers Market. By November, she’d found the perfect spot to open her brick and mortar store at Main and Pearl streets, and the New Albany Sugar Shoppe was born.

“It's been awesome,” she said. “I love downtown New Albany, I love all my neighbors, I love my customers. It's just so fun and so quirky. Just being a part of the experience is great.”

To help start the business, Carper cashed in her 401(k) and poured her life savings into the venture. But two years after opening, Carper is worried about how she and other businesses in the area will weather this phase of the Main Street Revitalization Project, which has left sections of the road and sidewalks torn up for months.

The project includes replacing sidewalks and pavement along Main Street from State to East Fifth streets and adding benches. The new road will be more narrow to cause slower and safer driving.

The construction started in September and has cut down foot traffic in the downtown corridor — a neighborhood filled with locally owned shops and restaurants. Carper said this has been an especially big hit during the holidays, which many businesses rely on as a major part of their sales.

She said she’s seen revenue drop around 33% to 44% from a year ago. Carper doesn’t want to have to close or move. But she and others are struggling.

“I love my location,” she said. “All my money is tied up into this shop. And I know that once they get all this construction done, it's going to be fantastic. It'll be fantastic for my shop. But can I survive it?”

There’s similar concern down the block at Eureka! Menswear, which is accessible from the candy shop via a gravel makeshift sidewalk along Main Street, flanked by construction blocks.

Owner Dan Hardesty relocated the shop — which deals in new, vintage and consignment clothing — earlier this year from Market Street. Sales immediately shot up in the new spot. But since the construction started, he’s struggled with less revenue.

“This is about how are we able to continue to provide for our families, because this isn't my hobby,” he said. “This is my livelihood.”

Business owners say they know the improvements will make the area better, but they also hope to stay afloat. They’re speaking up for themselves and one another, and the community is rallying around them.

On Monday, several owners and landlords spoke at the New Albany City Council meeting to show officials how they were being affected.

That included Christian Johnson, owner at the Odd Shop on Main Street. Johnson posted on Facebook the following day to bring awareness to the challenges local businesses have faced during construction.

“After hearing all the testimonies of the business owners at the meeting, it just made me realize we weren't the only ones struggling really badly,” she told LPM News this week, adding that she hopes the message will get the city’s attention, “and show that we have a lot of dedicated customers who would be very upset if we weren't here.”

The post got a lot of traction, and since Tuesday, more than $10,000 has been raised through a GoFundMe to help impacted businesses. Zack Flanagan, co-owner at Board and You Bistro & Wine Bar said his business is not affected by the construction, but he started the fund to show support for the ones that are, including the roughly 20 along or close to Main Street.

“I feel like not many people have felt and or seen that they've been supported through a construction process that's out of their control,” he said. “These businesses deserve to be taken care of. And at the end of the day, they need to know that their community cares about them.”

The funds will be distributed equally among the businesses.

And more relief could come from the city. New Albany City Council member Al Knable authored a resolution this week urging the redevelopment commission to reserve up to $500,000 in small business loans from the city’s American Rescue Plan funds.

“These are taxpaying Americans who need rescue, and that money is taxpayer money,” he said.

Knable added he knows the loss of foot traffic and accessibility comes after a series of other challenges for the local shops — including about a year and a half of intermittent closures of the Sherman Minton Bridge, the pandemic and its lingering supply chain issues and inflation.

The council is expected to take up the resolution at its next meeting Thursday. Hardesty, the owner at Eureka! Menswear, said he hopes city officials approve the relief.

“If our businesses fail because of our actions or our mismanagement, I can live with that,” he said. “But when they fail from a situation like this, it's really unexcusable.”

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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