Niles merchants glad streetscape work complete

Published 8:56 am Friday, November 26, 2004

By By SPIROS GALLOS / Niles Daily Star
NILES - The bricks are laid, the lightposts installed and wired, and traffic is back to normal along all the downtown streets after a summer of construction that seemed as if it would never end.
It's time to celebrate!
Now that the construction is completed and the downtown streetscape is totally revamped, was it all worth it to the merchants who worked through the downtown construction?
Many merchants agree the downtown streetscape project was worth the headaches and inconveniences experienced over the summer, as it means a brighter future for the City of Niles.
Like many businesses downtown, Majerek's experienced some low sales numbers during the summer, but Dumond said regular customers helped to lessen the impact of the construction.
Majerek's also reconfigured its back entrance, which is used primarily to receive shipments, to allow customers to enter the store from the rear when the sidewalk in front of the store was taken out.
Dumond feels the streetscape project was a worthwhile investment and it will attract more people to the downtown area.
Down the street at Roncari-Thayer's Jewelers, store manager Sarah Christenson said the foot traffic was significantly affected by the downtown construction.
While foot traffic was affected, Christenson said the construction didn't affect the store as bad as it was expected to as sales numbers indicated the store was doing quite well.
Christenson thinks the new look of downtown will do for Niles what similar downtown renovation projects did for Traverse City and Cadillac, cities Christenson lived in after each of their downtown redevelopment projects were completed.
Christenson said the downtown district has a more welcoming appearance thanks to the streetscape project.
Greg Baker, who owns the Baker's Needle with his wife, Diane, said the streetscape project was a long time coming.
Baker said the inconvenience of the summer construction was a small price to pay for the improvements it brought.
All the merchants interviewed are members of the Downtown Merchants Association, which provides many benefits to its members, they said.
Baker said the association allows the merchants to get to know one another, leading them to cross promote each other.
Christenson said participating in the association has afforded business owners the opportunity to work together on community events, like the gingerbread house decorating contest which Roncari-Thayer's and other merchants have organized for the holiday season.
Baker summarized the overall feeling of the downtown merchants that the project is an investment which will have a positive effect on the community.
The Niles Downtown Development Authority is ready to do just that Dec. 4 with the "Holiday Homecoming" event. The event will serve the dual purpose of kicking off the holiday season in downtown Niles and celebrating the completion of the two year downtown restoration project.
The downtown restoration project began June 2003 when the Kawneer aluminum fronts were removed from downtown buildings, revealing surprisingly well-kept brick facades underneath.
The downtown streetscape project kicked into full swing a year later in June 2004, adding to an already construction-filled summer which included the combined sewer overflow and federally-funded street paving projects which have all been completed.