HALLOWELL — Business owners and residents have been preparing for the reconstruction of Water Street in the city’s historic downtown that’s set to begin in less than four months.

From one side of Water Street to the other, business owners have expressed concern for what their bottom lines will look like when the Department of Transportation’s reconstruction of the street ends sometime in October. Kim Davis, of Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe, and Malley Webber, of Hallowell Clay Works, said they’re hopeful people continue to come to the area despite the expected traffic and parking problems.

“There’s no way around it, it’s going to affect business,” Davis said. “We’re just now getting people used to coming to central Maine and Hallowell, and I worry the construction will deter people.”

The transportation department will reconstruct a 2,000-foot stretch of the busy corridor – also known as U.S. Route 201 – beginning in April and expect to complete the bulk of the work by October. Contractors will work Monday through Thursday from sunrise to sunset and from sunrise to 3 p.m. Friday. Project manager Ernie Martin said there could be five 24-hour work periods at the intersections of Temple and Water streets and Winthrop and Water streets.

Geoff Houghton says he’s worried that the financial hit his brew pub The Liberal Cup might take during the Water Street construction project could hamper his “being able to keep my staff intact.” Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“My concern is that people won’t be able to see what’s going on (downtown),” Webber said. “There’s going to be a vacuum of people avoiding the area.”

Three Hallowell groups – the Down With the Crown and Hallowell Arts and Cultural committees, and the Hallowell Board of Trade – have been meeting since last year to come up with ideas to continue making downtown Hallowell an attractive destination during the six-month construction period, which includes the busy summer season.

Martin and the DOT will host an open house at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday at City Hall to discuss final plans and answer any public questions about the nearly $5 million project.

BUSINESSES WILL ‘TAKE A HIT’

Tom Allen, owner of Kennebec Cigar, said he can’t predict how much business he’ll lose, but knows he’s going to be hurt during the construction period. One advantage he has, however, is that there is a rear entrance to his store, though parking behind the building is a problem.

He said he has put money aside to help offset any potential losses, but Davis said a business can’t put money aside if it isn’t making enough money.

“I can’t imagine people have been able to squirrel away any money,” she said. “We work really hard and are into our fifth year, and we’re just now seeing a decent profit.”

Andrew Silsby, the CEO and president of Kennebec Savings Bank and the chairman of the Maine Bankers Association, said business owners should budget around a 25 percent loss in sales.

“This project is a little different because I think it’ll be tougher during the slower part of the season,” Silsby said. “It may not be June or July when they see the challenges.”

Silsby said he thinks the fear of change is greater than the reality and he will try to visit organizations and businesses on Water Street to support them during the construction.

“I’m optimistic, and I don’t think it’ll be as bad as people think,” Silsby said.

Business owners know their business, Silsby said, and if there is a cash-flow problem, there are people at Kennebec Savings or other institutions ready to provide assistance.

Webber said she’s not worried about her business because she has repeat customers and the students who take her pottery classes are committed. She’s concerned that because there will be construction equipment and activity, fewer people will be driving through the downtown.

“I’m hoping that we all survive, and I hope that people still come down and show support,” she said.

KEEPING PEOPLE WORKING

The Liberal Cup owner Geoff Houghton said he has anxiety about the project, but it’s not all tied to a potential loss of sales.

“My biggest concern is being able to keep my staff intact,” he said. “I have a good staff, and I don’t want to lose anybody because I can’t give them the hours they usually have.”

Houghton said his restaurant’s regular customers will continue to come, but is worried about the casual visitor.

“I’m anticipating a 10 percent loss, and I’d be OK with that, but I don’t want to lose 30 percent,” he said. “If it gets past 20 percent, I’ll probably have to sacrifice some jobs.”