PORTLAND – For Don Lindgren, anything that makes it harder for customers to get to his Rabelais bookstore on Middle Street is a problem.

But when that kind of problem crops up during the summer, “it’s really major.”

That’s what irritates Lindgren most about the replacement of a relatively short stretch of sidewalk that runs in front of his store and several others in the building at 78-88 Middle St. And the sidewalk is only the latest in a series of disruptions in the area.

Problems began last winter when construction started on the Hampton Inn hotel now nearing completion next door on Franklin Street.

After that work was under way, the street was ripped up in late spring to install new gas and water mains. And the work on the sidewalks has stretched well into July, knocking a big hole in Lindgren’s projected sales.

He estimates that sales for his store, which specializes in books on food and drink, were off 40 percent in May and June. He hasn’t yet calculated the impact on July.

But businesses along his stretch of Middle Street constantly struggle to get shoppers to head east across Franklin Street from the Old Port, he said. Having a torn-up road and construction equipment on the street probably turned off some potential customers.

A Portland official said the city isn’t to blame.

Spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the gas main work was part of a larger replacement project throughout the Old Port earlier this year. The hotel, she said, will bring more potential customers into the area, and the decision to install a new brick sidewalk was part of an overall upgrade to match the work being done by the hotel’s developers.

Clegg said the city’s approval of the hotel included a requirement that brick sidewalks be installed around it. It made no sense to have brick sidewalks around the hotel and concrete around the rest of the block, so the city allocated money to continue the brick sidewalks and contracted with Opechee Construction, which is developing the hotel, to build them.

But last month, as Opechee was digging up the old concrete sidewalks, workers found several old basement windows at 78-88 Middle St. that had never been filled in. The building’s owner, Commercial Properties, asked for a brief delay to allow workers to fill in the openings, said Dan Catlin, the company’s chief executive officer.

He said the work only took a couple of days and was completed three weeks ago.

“If they’re blaming it on us, we were in and out within two days,” Catlin said.

Tim Daigneault, Opechee’s project manager, said Catlin was told that project would throw off the sidewalk schedule and it would be a couple of weeks before crews could return and complete it. Daigneault said the brickwork will probably begin again either today or Monday and be done within a few days.

But Lindgren said he won’t be able to make up for his lost sales, and he and other business owners said communications could have, and should have, been better.

Mary Paine, owner of the Good Egg restaurant, said she got a regular flow of misinformation from the city, but she’s glad the project is wrapping up and happy the hotel project includes a granite stairway that Hampton Inn guests can use to walk up to her cafe.

Still, the delays and lack of information have “been ridiculous,” she said, noting that a handicapped customer recently had a difficult time getting into her restaurant because the sidewalk is currently well below the level of the curb and the steps leading into the Good Egg.

Next door at Dean’s Sweets, owner Dean Bingham said he understands his fellow store owners’ frustrations.

As an architect, however, Bingham said he also understands how delays can crop up and construction schedules slip.

“But that doesn’t mean I like it,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

 

This story was updated at 10:44 a.m. July 22 to correct the spelling of Don Lindgren’s first name.