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Some businesses struggle, others ride wave in Highway 210 reconstruction

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Road work continues Thursday, Sept. 5, on Highway 210 near the Crow Wing County Landfill. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

CROSBY-IRONTON — For the Crosby-Ironton micropolitan area, the reconstruction of Highway 210 from Brainerd to Ironton has been a story of two cities.

That isn't a reference to the closely intertwined towns, but more to the economic outlooks of different businesses and how they’re affected by the loss of one of the city’s major traffic arteries. While many businesses can lean on a loyal local customer base to weather — and even thrive — during the traffic lull, others more dependent on motorists passing through are feeling the pinch after two months of roadway reconstruction.

Between Brainerd and Ironton, 14 miles of roadway are being reconstructed from the ground up, with a number of new features and amenities added to repair some subterranean infrastructure, as well as improve traffic efficiency and safety for about 12,000 vehicles a day. It's slated to cost roughly $6.8 million to $6.9 million when it's all said and done.

In the meantime, motorists are taking a designated detour through highways 25, 18 and 6, which makes the once 14 mile trip a longer, winding 22 miles in many cases.

The project started mid-June and is slated for completion in mid-October. Construction project manager Matt Indihar said the roadway was stripped and regraded, which means the next step is to pave from Brainerd to the Crow Wing County Landfill starting Friday, Sept. 5. Bituminous pavement will be laid from the landfill to Ironton in the following weeks.

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Dan Severson, owner of French's Automotive in Ironton, works in the wheel well of a vehicle Wednesday, Sept. 4. With Highway 210 between Ironton and Brainerd closed, some businesses have experienced some difficulties with the absence of thru traffic on the road. Not French's, where Severson said long-standing relationships and a loyal clientele have allowed the repair shop to weather construction season without a hitch. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

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Dan Severson, owner of French’s Automotive, struggled to find an opening in his schedule for a customer as far as a week in advance. It’s about reputation, he said, born of nearly two decades of relationships, sound business practices and close ties to the area.

“I don’t think it’s so much the people on 210. It’s more the people here in town or the people who have been doing business here for 17 years and probably 10 years before that with the old owner,” Severson said. “I haven’t had any tourist traffic passing through and breaking down, but that usually isn’t much to begin with.”

As such, Severson said he’s been able to ride through a productive and profitable summer 2019 without a hitch — though, he admitted, the lack of Highway 210 traffic means the town is more quiet and still in an almost eerie way.

For businesses like French’s, a long-standing clientele is the lifeblood and one that doesn’t waver much if a major road closes down. These people have close bonds to local proprietors and know the area well, said Philena Wynn, owner of Main Street Hair Design in Ironton.

“It really hasn’t affected our business,” Wynn said.

Deana Wikelius, a booth owner of the salon, said, if anything, some aspects of business have actually improved. With the main road to Brainerd closed, there’s been a bump in customers coming in for certain services, like pedicures, which has forced salon operators to deny some new appointments.

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“There’s people in Crosby and Ironton who are like, ‘Well, I don’t want to drive all the way to Brainerd to get my nails done, will you get me in?’” Wikelius said. “There’s been more turn-aways than anything.”

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Deana Wikelius, a booth owner with Main Street Hair Design, said reconstruction on Highway 210 between Ironton and Brainerd hasn't negatively affected business. In fact, it's led to a bump in appointments from clients who balk at the extended drive and commute to Brainerd for their salon needs. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

For businesses like Cycle Path & Paddle — ones intertwined with Crosby-Ironton’s booming nature recreation economy — the statewide, national and even international scope of the Cuyuna Range’s appeal largely overcomes the loss of an artery into the micropolitan area.

“They already have reservations, so they’re going to take the detour and take the extra mile,” General Manager Randy Ruprecht said. “We haven’t been affected in any major way. I know they’re experiencing more difficulties getting here, but they’re still finding us, they’re still coming, they’re not changing their plans that they’ve made.

“It’s actually been busier the last two months than years past,” he added.

However, for “pit-stop” eateries and businesses closely tied to through traffic on Highway 210, summmer earnings — which should represent peak revenues of the year — have diminished and look to trend in a similar direction for the near future.

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Located on Third Avenue, Crosby, Cycle Path & Paddle -- an outfitter that's benefited from the booming nature recreation economy along the Cuyuna Range -- has weathered construction along Highway 210 with little disruption. Once travelers have reserved a spot in Crosby-Ironton to experience its natural wonders, there's little a detour will do to dissuade the tourist market. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

Nadine Albrecht, owner of Dairy Queen on 714 Oak St., Crosby, said it’s been a stretch of highs and lows for sales without drivers from main thoroughfares like Highway 6 and especially Highway 210.

“Has business been bad because of construction? Yes. Should we have been busier? Absolutely. Did we meet our projections that we wanted to meet this summer? No,” said Albrecht, who noted she’s spoken with other proprietors in the area who have expressed similar frustrations. “Was it dead? Absolutely not. Was it a good summer. Yes.”

Albrecht said construction could have finished ahead of schedule and mitigated downturns in business if focus was maintained on the project. But, road corrosion and decisions by contractors to focus on other projects sidelined Highway 210 for a time and continued to put Crosby-Ironton businesses in a difficult position.

“I don’t know how they’re going to get done by mid-October because I live on 210 and they haven’t done much in two weeks,” Albrecht added. “They’ve done absolutely nothing in two weeks, because all the gravel they’ve put down is gone. They had to regrade all of it.”

Indihar echoed these criticisms and noted the roadway is back in good condition after weeks of inclement weather and heavy traffic passing through that corroded the gravel footprint of Highway 210. That, coupled with the resources and manpower being stretched between different projects in the area, means the project experienced something of a lull for two weeks, he said.

“Whenever we have a rain event and get heavy traffic, it potholes up pretty severely,” Indihar said. “It gets hard when it dries, then it takes a while to get out there and regrade it to smooth condition again. We’re still on schedule.”

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