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Suquamish businesses fight summer road closure

Bella Luna Pizzaria owner Bob Rowden is one of the many merchants potentially cut off for months when Agusta Avenue in Suquamish is detoured for road construction.  - Brad Camp/Staff photo
Bella Luna Pizzaria owner Bob Rowden is one of the many merchants potentially cut off for months when Agusta Avenue in Suquamish is detoured for road construction.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff photo

SUQUAMISH — It took only two days after county road crews posted signs warning of Augusta Avenue’s impending road closure to spur discontent in Suquamish’s business core.

Local business owners in the heart of Suquamish say they can’t afford another summer road closure, which is why they are forming local nonprofit Suquamish Commercial District Merchants to petition postponing the closure of Augusta Avenue until, ideally, after their peak money-making summer season.

“The summer months for Suquamish businesses, financially, is like ‘Black Friday’ for retail stores on Thanksgiving Weekend,” said Burt Perkins, owner of Burton’s Motorsports.

The closure, scheduled to run from June 30 to September 12, will close Augusta Avenue between Center and Geneva streets all summer. Detour signs will route traffic from Division Street to Geneva, completely avoiding the business core; however, on June 20, Kitsap County Public Works added to their Web site (http://www.kitsapgov.com/pw/roadwork.htm) there will be local access to the shops and restaurants.

The online change came after the Public Works Open phone line was plagued with numerous calls of concern, said Doug Bear, public information program supervisor for Kitsap County Public Works.

“They say it’s not going to be closed down here but it might as well be,” said Bob Rowden, owner of Bella Luna Pizzeria. “I bet we only see 10 percent of the normal traffic this summer.”

Once the signs were posted last Friday, Perkins and other business owners counted vehicles traveling along Augusta.

Between the ferry and local traffic, they estimated an average of 5,000 vehicles drive by Suquamish’s business core via Augusta every day.

“Maybe the impulsive buyer is only one in 20,” Rowden said. “With 5,000 daily, 250 isn’t bad but you break that down to one-tenth the normal traffic and we can’t afford to stay in business.”

Rowden had plans for a new deck and carpeting at Bella Luna, banking on making enough money this summer to help cover costs.

After finding out about the road closure, he’s cancelled his improvements.

“We just hired three new people because of the peak season. Now if the peak season doesn’t come, well,” Rowden said, arms in the air and shoulders shrugged.

Not only are business owners worried about making ends meet, they feel they found out about the posing threat too late.

“If we would have known sooner, not only would we not have invested, we’d be doing all types of things to hunker down,” Perkins said.

The only legal qualification for public notice is met when road projects go before the board of county commissioners, said Bear, who has worked for Public Works 21 years.

The project, meant to widen the roads, adding a sidewalk and bicycle lanes, was approved in April.

“We are are in process of looking at this issue and how to best notify people,” Bear said. “Maybe we can help develop something with business owners to pass out to their customers...possibly a construction special.”

The best way to become informed of road projects now is the Web site, he said, adding the earliest notification is put on the road report. For those who don’t have computer access the Open Line (360-337-5777) provides the same information.

“I think the main concern with this project is that the detour route is further than closure route,” he said. “We are cognizant of the fact that our work does affect businesses. What we do unfortunately is right in front of people. I wish there was a quick solution and I could wave a magic wand to make our work have no impact.”

Bear said there were a couple of considerations when choosing the best time for the road project in Suquamish. Because it is so close to the water, the time frame for the project has to be done in drier months. Also projects take longer in other seasons, which cost the county more money, Bear said.

“Road work is always going to be inconvenient to someone,” he said.

This isn’t the first time sections of Augusta Avenue were closed during the summer.

Bear said the road was closed about four years ago for another road project.

“We know it happens. We aren’t just projecting,” Perkins said. “It’s like a ghost town.”

Bella Luna Pizzeria used to be located up by JC’s Grocery. Rowden said he has just financially recovered from the move.

“It makes it hard for the little guy to get going again,” he said.

Like Burton’s Motorsports and Bella Luna Pizzeria, Ki Kim, owner of JC’s Grocery, also struggled with the previous road closure.

“It’s a whole lot concerning, not a little,” said Kim. “We lost daily sales. But what can I say, I am little, they are big.”

Local resident Bob O’Connell, 66, who was shopping in Kim’s store, said he will have to use the detour route but won’t forget about the businesses.

O’Connell, who has lived in Suquamish 21 years, said that most locals know how to make the loop because of the similar route used for Chief Seattle Days; however, many outsiders won’t venture away from the detour.

“That will most definitely have an effect with the people who don’t know how to get around it,” he said.

Business owners know the debacle is a double-edged sword. The road project will benefit them in the long run; however they hope to make it through financially to see the day when it does.

“All Suquamish needs is a little shine,” Rowden said. “It’s what (the road project) is trying to do but it would be nice if they didn’t have to start all over with new businesses.”

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