NORTHUMBERLAND — The $13.7 million Route 147 road reconstruction project in Northumberland Borough has caused considerable financial losses to merchants along Duke Street, but three years into the project, four prominent business owners said things are getting "marginally better."
The current problem, agreed all four business owners, seems to be the ongoing construction at the Priestley Bridge, permitting traffic to proceed only one way, north from Sunbury to Northumberland Borough.
As Duke Street opened up to traffic without detours, business has gotten better at Joyce's Gift Basket and Country Crafts, Amato's Italian restaurant, Young's Sporting Goods and Front Street Station.
Joyce Engle, owner of the gift shop said things are getting a little bit better, in terms of sales.
"Foot traffic is a bit better," she said Friday. "And I'm optimistic that this trend will continue to be the case."
Engle, through the "tough" years when the section of Duke Street in front of her house was being worked on, survived by her use of social media and her regular clients. "All of that is picking up now. We do a lot of internet work, and we deliver what we sell."
A little bit south of the gift shop is Amato's, a popular Italian restaurant, owned by Aurelio Amato.
Amato's was hard hit by the construction, Amato said.
"I can't say we are back where we were before the roadwork began," he said. Amato's continues to draw from the community, where it has been a staple for more than 20 years. "The Priestley Bridge work has definitely caused loss of business. To get to Sunbury from here you have to go through Shamokin Dam."
Ken Young tries to be cautiously optimistic about business returning to how it was before road work began.
Young, owner of Young's Sporting Goods, described last year as "a terrible year for us. Lost lots of money. This year things are a little better, but still a long way from normal for us." Young said that some people just avoided Northumberland because of all the detours, "and they find other places to shop. We have to find them and get them back. It's a slow process."
Front Street Station has had its "up and down days, since Duke Street opened up," said owner Jay Seidel Jr.
"We have two busy periods — December and in the summer," he said. "Those two periods did not do as well as expected for us."
"Still, the word is slowly getting out to people — that's the positive news," Seidel said. "It's a crazy business. You never know from one day to the next what you are going to get. Back in our heyday we had turnaway business, even in the 2000s, but as competition moves in the slice of pie gets smaller and smaller."
News that work on the Priestley Bridge and nearby construction would be delayed due to unanticipated sewer line work, caused a collective moan among the owners.
"It's just going to delay things more," Ken Young said, shaking his head.