LITTLE FALLS -- Nobody likes road construction even if it is warranted, but sometimes there’s a good reason for someone to like it even less.
Mary Groth owns Spark! Nutrition near East Broadway and Southeast Second Street in downtown Little Falls and is one of many businesses affected by the road closures and detours.
“I’ve definitely had customers ask how to get to me,” said Groth, who opened the nutrition club in mid-April, about a month after road improvements started.
All new lanes and sidewalks on Highway 27 east of the Mississippi River are scheduled to open by Aug. 26. Construction west of the bridge will continue as scheduled.
“It’s hard to say if business has dropped off in my case because I really never got going,” Groth said of the short span between opening and road closures. “We sell healthy meal replacement shakes and energizing tea.”
Highway 27 east of the Mississippi River will be closed between Front Street East and 11 Street East. The recommended detour follows Front Street Southeast, First Avenue Southeast, Fifth Avenue Southeast and 11th Street Southeast.
“I know it’s definitely affected me because people have said, ‘Oh, I tried to get to you, but I can’t get there,’ or they’ve called and asked how to get here -- things like that -- and just the lack of traffic,” Groth said Monday, Aug. 12, while alone in her store.
Road work ahead
On a recent weekday during the lunch hour, activity was almost nonexistent at Groth’s intersection near the Morrison County Social Services building. Orange traffic cones, flags and signs proclaiming “ROAD WORK AHEAD” were the only visible signs of a human presence.
“Broadway was closed off from the bridge to Fourth Street and that was somewhat painful, but when the west side closed -- so they closed at the bridge -- that’s when it really started to slow down, which is kind of surprising, but now people have to go around town in order to get to the other side of town, and they don’t go through town at all,” Groth said.
The yellow lettering on the dark red awning of Pete and Joy’s Bakery across from Spark! Nutrition adorns a deserted storefront that once bustled with baked goods. Its closure was mentioned on the Little Falls business’ Facebook page in a May 23 post.
“We here at Pete and Joy’s Bakery are sad to announce that our last day open will be Saturday June 1st. Due to many circumstances (construction) beyond our control,” according to the bakery.
Little Falls includes about 8,500 residents and “has small-town charm with numerous opportunities to visit, shop and dine,” according to the city’s website. Little Falls is also the seat of the Morrison County government
“I’ve reached out and made calls to the city engineer to get updates about the road construction, but as far as them giving me updates, I just refer to the local newspaper,” Groth said.
Groth said she has been using social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, to publicize the fact she is open for business despite the road construction and to notify customers as to the best way to reach her while the road work is going on or which streets to take.
“Also they do the big dig parties on Thursday nights, so they do block parties every Thursday night at different places around the city because of the construction, so I’ve been to a couple of those with coupons and brochures and stuff,” Groth said.
Groth said of the road work, “I knew it was coming when I opened, so there’s been a couple of really lean days, and there’s been a few pretty good days.”
Venessa Laughter and her mother Stephanie Allord co-own BrandUsed, which sells women’s used clothes and accessories at the corner of East Broadway and Kidder Street Southeast.
“We have beautiful clothes for very, very cheap,” Laughter said of the consignment-based store that opened almost three years ago.
Access is open to businesses and residents north and south of Highway 27, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation website, which instructed that open side streets, businesses’ back or side entrances, and sidewalks be used to access downtown retailers.
“Oh, my gosh has it been terrible. For two months straight and because we’ve been on this corner, we got hit the most because they were right there, it seemed like,” Laughter said of construction workers and vehicles. “We didn’t have business for almost two months.”
Road work winding down
Work will wind down soon in east Little Falls as crews pave the final layer of blacktop road surface on Highway 27 between Front Street East and Ninth Street East this week, according to transportation officials, and work will continue on the west side of Little Falls through September.
“As soon as the work started, everything shut down. We had the bridge shut down for two weeks in the beginning, so everything was re-routed. It was totally dead,” Laughter recalled. “But as soon as this street Broadway got done, we got busy again.”
Laughter said her parents had enough saved fortunately to weather out the tough financial times associated with the road construction.
“We were OK, but we were very worried about everybody else,” Laughter said.
“The streets out here now look awesome. We’ve got new streets. And I understood how old these streets were -- what was going underneath the streets I really couldn’t see -- but, yes, they would not have done this work otherwise. I believe in my city.”
BrandUsed also has a visible back entrance that the detour passed along, so Laughter used it to her advantage by advertising to passing motorists, but even more visitors to Little Falls are expected in the near future with the city’s annual fair.
“The actual construction workers have been really good. They busted their butts, they didn’t mess around and they got it done, and I watched them the whole time. They did a great job,” Laughter said of her front-row seat by the glass window storefront.
One of the city’s main events that brings shoppers in droves to the city is fast approaching. The 35th anniversary of the Little Falls Arts & Crafts Fair in 2007 attracted 140,000 shoppers and about 650 vendors, according to the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, and during the three-plus decades, the annual event has “brought untold dollars in the local economy.”
“We have the craft fair coming in three weeks, so that’s what I think everybody is really been hoping for, praying for, knowing that those two days are going to save or make up for all the months that we have been dealing with the road construction,” Laughter said.
Groth said, “I’m excited, I’m ecstatic and I can’t wait.”