The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 29, 2013

Detours turning customers away from businesses

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

NORTHUMBERLAND — Summer is a season of temporary alternate routes, and at best, traffic detours are inconvenient. At worst, they cut into the bottom line of businesses, as Kathy Peterson, of Mama’s Corner Deli in White Deer, has learned.

“Last month, we lost $20,000,” Peterson said. “In my business, we make our money during the summertime.”

Mama’s Corner Deli, open about a year, is at the intersection of Old Route 15 and White Deer Pike; the latter is closed to traffic about 500 feet from Peterson’s eatery.

SEDA-COG’s Joint Rail Authority is rebuilding a railroad bridge over the pike, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation shut off traffic in both directions at that spot, opting for that instead of a temporary signal that would have alternated traffic in either direction over one lane.

That move, Peterson said, cost her the breakfast and lunch crowd, which would cross the Nurse Helen Fairchild Memorial Bridge from Watsontown into Union County.

“Traffic at that intersection used to be 400 cars an hour,” Peterson said. “Now, it’s like 40 cars a day. ... We had zero warning (the detour) was even coming, or I would have made changes.”

But a warning doesn’t mean a business dependent on local traffic will be unscathed, as other Valley businesses are finding out.

The most notable examples are in Mifflinburg, where there is a major reconstruction of Route 45, which is Chestnut Street, the borough’s main retail area.

PennDOT’s contractor held a public meeting in March to inform residents and businesses of the plan for the 1.35-mile-long project, which is to wrap up in November.

But detours warning people away from downtown gave the impression everything was shut down, and the first construction phase alone saw one business, Thankful Sage Farm School, shutter its windows and move; the Bald Eagle Brewing Co., a brewing supply and beer shop, closed. Stamm House and Stamm’s Candy on Chestnut Street gave up on the storefront during Mifflinburg’s “big dig” and is relying on mail-order and online business to keep going. Other store owners along Chestnut Street said they may not be so lucky.

Two businesses along Route 405 in Northumberland County also are feeling a detour pinch, even with warning and preparation.

Matt Rabb, owner of The Fence drive-in restaurant in West Chillisquaque Township, knew about the two years ago of work on Route 405 that started in April. The detour shuts off traffic from Route 147 in Point Township to Route 405, where it typically would travel past The Fence and Dries Orchard farmstand.

Rabb began an advertising push last year, he said, getting out the word that his business, also dependent on a seasonal crowd, would be accessible from the intersection of Routes 405 and 45. Even so, Rabb’s lunch crowd has dropped off, he said, without the access from Point Township.

“It just takes too much time to get to us,” Rabb said, “and people only have so long for lunch.”

Dries Orchard’s roadside stand, across the road from The Fence, may close early this season, manager Candy Schreffler said, given the large dropoff in customers, which she attributes to the detour.

“This is usually a profitable location,” Schreffler said of the stand, one of five locations Dries has in the Valley.

The stand usually is open May through October but it may close early “if sales drop off further,” she said.

Back in White Deer Township, now that Fairchild Bridge has been closed — the detour was hammering a township bridge — Peterson said Mama’s Corner Deli likely will die off completely, and she’ll have to shut down.

“We lost $20,000 in June alone. July isn’t looking good,” she said. “I don’t know what else to do other than hope that someone will purchase the deli.”