By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG — The second phase of the Route 45 reconstruction project through Mifflinburg started Tuesday, but phase one already has left shops in the dust along Route 45, cutting into their business and profits, prompting one to move and another to shut its doors for good.
Store owners are worried what could happen during Phase II, which encompasses Fifth through Third streets, where most shops are located on Chestnut Street. Most of them rely on street traffic and shoppers from neighboring stores for their business.
But damage was done during Phase I, shop owners said, by the detour signs that warned people away from the borough.
“The signs say local traffic only — what’s that tell you?” said Sue Rice, director of thrift stores for American Rescue Workers, which runs a large and popular thrift shop at 350 Chestnut St.
“Even down the street, the construction hurt us because they had signage there on the outskirts discouraging thru-traffic, which we rely on a lot on that street,” she said.
Rice wouldn’t divulge sales but estimates the Mifflinburg store, one of eight the Lycoming County-based charity runs, loses “easily” $1,000 a week on average since the work began in April.
“It’s tough and frustrating,” Rice said, “and now it’s out in front of our place. People will think they won’t be able to get to (the store).”
Linda Snook agreed.
The proprietress of La Vielle Maison des Livres, an antique shop next door to American Rescue Workers at 344 Chestnut St., said the detour at Driesbach Church Road from westbound Route 45 is a truck detour, but “everyone makes that left” off the road.
Snook also is frustrated that no signs direct people where to park while in Mifflinburg.
“This should have been done differently. We’re not closed,” Snook said of local business. “This is a busy time for me, June through December. We’d get the (Camp) Woodward traffic and people going to their cabins, but there’s been a dramatic drop in sales.”
Herself a Civil War re-enactor, Snook also sells period clothing and fabric and hopes that, plus selling books online as she does, will help her shop stay afloat.
Kay Stamm, who owns and operates Stamm House and Stamm’s Candy at 345 Chestnut St., gave up on the storefront during the big dig and is relying on her mail-order and online business to keep her going, she said.
Her concern, however, is that the project finish on schedule — Nov. 21, a week before Thanksgiving — as the holiday season is the busiest time of year for her holiday reproductions business.
“I don’t know how they could’ve done better” with planning and rerouting, Stamm said of the project, “but we have so few businesses as it is, and people (traveling through Mifflinburg) don’t want to deal with this. If it’s not convenient for them to get to you, they’ll avoid it.”
The dropoff in sales, however, was enough for two businesses. Nichole Gerding, owner of Thankful Sage Farm School which makes homemade candles, soaps and other products, announced her move to Millheim, about 25 miles west of Mifflinburg on Route 45. The Sweets, owners of Bald Eagle Brewing Co. at 315 Chestnut St. a brewing supply and beer shop, closed.
Neither the Sweets nor Gerding could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Mifflinburg Mayor David Cooney acknowledge initial confusion with detour signs but said that now should be remedied.
He said a large flashing sign told motorists to follow a detour for Route 45 but it was meant for trucks. “People were confused and thought the detour was for everything,” he said.
Keith Phelps, owner of Country Farm and Home at 7801 Old Turnpike Road, spoke with the state Department of Transportation because the signs were costing him business, resulting in a change weeks ago, Cooney said.
The sign now makes it more obvious that the first detour is a truck route, Cooney said, and another sign tells motorists Route 45 is open to Third Street to the Scarlet D Tavern. “That’s an attempt to tell motorists you can get that far,” he said.
Until the project is over, the best maneuver may be to advertise store hours and especially where patrons can park, Cooney said.
Rice was hopeful that could work for American Rescue Workers’ Thrift Store. “People need to know we’re open. We’re losing that traffic,” she said, “and that matters.”
Even the Mifflinburg Hose Company will have to work around the big dig, Fire Chief John Heiges said.
“They will do our part last and finish it first,” Heiges said of PennDOT’s plan. The fire department is at 325 Chestnut St.
When the work gets halfway to the fire house, one truck will go to White Springs Repair on Route 104, near where several volunteers live and can get to it fast, Heiges said. Other trucks will move to the former Mifflinburg Lumber Co. property on the east end of the borough.