Road work pinches Albion shops

FAIRMONT – The Albion Avenue road construction has impacted more than motorists: Six businesses front the work zone, and, for some, the project has resulted in significant financial losses.

Revenue at the Fairmont VFW has seen a considerable drop, according to Mel Langford, president of the club’s bar board.

“We looked at it (income), and I think it’s down about 50 percent,” said Dennis Madsen, board member.

“Summertime is always slow, but not this slow,” said Maggie Sunken, bar manager.

Promotions designed to attract customers have had mixed results. During construction, happy hour drink prices are in effect during business hours.

The kitchen is open daily for lunches and dinners. Nights featuring steak or prime rib dinners have been slow, but Thursday’s $5 burger-and-fries special still draws guests.

The regulars are still coming in, “but not as often,” Sunken said.

The club sponsors charitable gambling, benefitting Fairmont Hockey Association. Annette Larson, gambling manager, said pull-tab sales are less than half of pre-construction tallies. Numerous games traditionally draw gambling enthusiasts to the club to try their luck, with many winners paid out daily. Recently, only one winning ticket was paid out during a 24-hour period.

“That’s never happened before,” Larson said.

Madsen fears the situation will worsen when construction begins on the other side of the road.

Sales at Sommer Outdoors, commonly known as the bait shop, plummeted about 75 percent when construction began, forcing owner Justin Sommer to alter his operating hours to his fall and winter schedule.

“I couldn’t afford to pay my employees,” he said.

Normally, he employs five part-time workers, but only two remain.

During peak spring and summer hours, the business is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. After Labor Day, fall and winter hours are 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

But Sommer remains optimistic.

“I always try to find the positive in everything,” he said. “When I bought the business 2 1/2 years ago, I knew there was going to be construction so I had time to plan for it – and the road really needed it.”

Sommer’s phone number is posted on the door and he encourages customers to call if he isn’t open. He lives next door and has “no problem” popping over and opening up during off hours to make a sale.

Ice cream sales at the Dairy Freeze remain fairly constant, according to manager Cherry Malliet, but the construction “has definitely slowed down our lunch hours.”

“We’re just riding it out,” she said.

Twice-weekly deliveries presented a challenge for the truck drivers, but Malliet credits cooperation from the VFW next door, which allows the trucks to use its lot.

The business usually remains open into early fall, but this Sunday marks its last day of operation this season.

“We’re are closing a little early,” Malliet said. While construction is a part of it – the parking lot needs to be torn up to make way for a new water line – expansion is the real reason.

“We’re doing some upgrades – more parking, more storage,” she said. “We hope to be done by next spring.”

The project involves repurposing a recently purchased house behind the Dairy Freeze for additional cooler and storage space, moving a shed and clearing overgrown brush and trees to allow direct access from Gomsrud Park.

The Shell gas station has seen a slight decrease in traffic, but regular customers have been faithful.

“It has effected us, but we still see our loyal customers. They’ll still find a way,” said Thad Hawley, assistant manager. “People don’t seem to mind driving through a construction zone.”

“We will remain open regular hours during the entire construction,” he said.

The owner of Hertzke Construction and Millworks expressed surprise that the road project had no impact on the business.

“We thought it would kill our retail business, but it hasn’t,” said Joe Rosol.

“The construction people have been good. They’re working with us.”

With five or six delivery trucks coming in daily, the construction crews readily move equipment to allow for deliveries to get through. If the equipment can’t be moved, the adjacent bait shop driveway provides access.

Shear Radiance salon is open Monday through Saturday, and owner Laurie Austin said the construction hasn’t really cut into their business.

“So far it’s been OK,” she said. “We’re still staying busy. We’ve been pretty steady.”

She added that the majority of their business is done by appointment, not walk-in clientele.