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Downtown Erin braces for what construction will do to business

'We would love to have the new development and more customers coming, but how do we survive in the two years, three years?'

Road construction has become a bad word for business owners in Erin, especially those on Main Street anticipating the impact wastewater plant construction and resulting two-year partial road closure, will bring. 

With construction underway on Wellington Road 52, the project will also affect Main Street and Trafalgar Road, and is expected to be fully completed in October 2024. What businesses will do to stay afloat in the meantime is still up for debate. 

“Retail is going to suffer and (daytime businesses) will be the most severely impacted,” said Stephanie Gairdner, owner of Renaissance, an eclectic jewelry shop on Main Street. “But businesses like restaurants, takeout food, the financial advisor that you only see twice a year, they can adapt.”

While her store has an online presence, unlike many on the street, Gairdner is concerned the construction signs at the entrances of Erin will detour both road and foot traffic away from Erin entirely. 

“Nothing was done by the past government to prevent the difficulties that we're gonna face; they were not addressed at all in any shape or form,” said Gairdner. “We do have a new council now and I'm hopeful for that.” 

Mayor Micheal Dehn said that while “the town isn’t really in a position to lose revenue,” he remains positive for the future of business owners on Main Street. 

“I can't say this is what I was hoping for our town. But it's something we inherited and we have to be optimistic,” said Dehn on the construction. “We have to come up better than we started or else it was a waste of energy and effort by everyone.”

Ann Shanahan, a local realtor and board chair of the Erin Chamber of Commerce says that Gairdner is not alone in her feelings.

“The (business owners) are worried. They just lived through the Enbridge gas line and that had a really big impact on their businesses,” said Shanahan. “So of course, that being right after COVID-19, they're worried about their futures.”

While a a marketing strategy suggested in March is "a step in the right direction," most businesses don’t feel that it’s enough. Currently, businesses like Amoretto’s, a clothing boutique, and New to You, a thrift store, are selling t-shirts, in addition to handing out free buttons with the “Open during Construction” logo and coordinating displays in their windows. All funds go to the Erin Chamber of Commerce. 

“(Business owners) felt very surprised and disappointed that there was not much notice given that the construction was starting, ” said Shanahan. “You know when something's been talked about for 40 years, and then suddenly it's happening, it's a bit of a shock.”

Viet-Thai restaurant Pho Erin opened in September 2019 and is family-owned and operated. Owner Oanh Vuong is worried that the construction will scare away all foot traffic.

“During the committee meetings, everyone talks about congestion, and the people that live in Erin say they will avoid Main Street,” said Vuong. “And the awful thing is that it will stop business, which is what we experienced when the gas construction happened.” 

Vuong's fear was cemented after an unexpected water main break and subsequent road closure, unrelated to the wastewater plant, two weeks ago, which caused “sales to drop a lot.” While the issue was discussed in council on Thursday, the conversation focused on communication with the public instead of the impact of future events. 

“We would love to have the new development and more customers coming ,but how do we survive in the two years, three years?” said Vuong. “We need more support from the town, that’s what we need. Otherwise, I don’t know.” 

Not one to turn away from a challenge, Jessica Vottero, who owns Red’s Barbershop, will open her second business, Blended, in Spring 2023. A to-go spot selling juice, smoothies, and sandwiches, Vottero hopes it will funnel customers into the barbershop. If that fails, Vottero invested in a hot dog stand to sit outside both stores. 

“As they're taking money out of my pocket, I’m planning on taking it back out and putting it in mine,” said Vottero. “I opened just before COVID-19 began and it didn’t sink me. I’m not sure what I did right but I plan on staying positive.” 

Owners of Studio Six19, a tattoo parlour that opened in January 2023, say that while the construction won’t affect them from a customer-flow perspective, they're concerned it may impact their fine-line work. 

“At our old shop, they built a building a couple of blocks away and had to close our shop just from them pouring concrete,” said Shade Gagne. “Everything was vibrating.” 

“Any heavy drilling that causes the building to shake will cause problems- I mean I breathe the wrong way and it’s an issue,” said Gagne's business partner Darcie Metcalfe. “If there’s lots of dust blowing into the store that also wouldn’t be great since we’re a sterile environment.”

Despite their fears, many business owners agree that construction is necessary. Shanahan believes the resulting increased property values and customer flow will trump the negatives for most businesses. 

“There's going to be more people, there's going to be more business, and our town is going to grow. So there's a really positive light at the end of the tunnel,” said Shanahan. “It’s like the old expression, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger;' so we have to keep our businesses alive.”

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About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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