Businesses take hit
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Stools were vacant at Chili Dog in Tamaqua at noon on Thursday, usually the most hectic time of the day at the busy eatery. The lack of customers is blamed on the bridge closure.
At noon Thursday, John Depos closed the dining area of Chili Dog, the iconic eatery at 130 East Broad St.
"There's nobody here," he said.
He stood vigil at the walk-up window, just in case a passer-by would go by in need of a dog or burger.
He said he'd do the same thing on Friday and Saturday. After that, he intends to close his place for at least a week because he figures it's a good time to take a vacation. Patrons right now are few.
It's a stark contrast to a typical noon hour when the restaurant bustles with activity and the seating area is filled.
Downtown businesses are saying that the closure of the US 209 bridge is taking a dramatic toll on commerce, especially for places located on the 100 block of East Broad Street in the heart of downtown.
Three days after the closing of the structurally deficient span over the Little Schuylkill River, major traffic is gone and potential shoppers apparently are afraid to walk or drive downtown.
All businesses surveyed Thursday said they've observed a drop in vehicular and truck traffic. Foot traffic also is scarce.
"We had 22 here on Tuesday. Then 19 on Wednesday and just seven today," said Deb Baddick of AAA of Schuylkill County, with offices at 202 East Broad St. Co-worker Nancy Lesisko, too, said she noticed a reduction in foot traffic.
If shoppers believe parking has disappeared, they're incorrect, say businesses.
"People don't realize that there is parking," said Ann Kline of AAA.
In fact, on Wednesday, the borough workers added about 20 parking spaces near the bridge, using white paint to designate parallel parking along the north side of Broad Street.
At Luigi's, a popular Italian restaurant, 121 East Broad St., there has been a noticeable drop in walk-in customers, says an employee.
"People are afraid you're going to get tied up, but you're not," said hostess Donna Laughlin. "People who live in Tamaqua know how to get around on the back streets," she added.
At Klingaman's, Inc., 124 East Broad St., workers noticed an absence of pedestrians.
"There were fewer and fewer each day," said Luanne Chickilly.
One frustrated customer early in the week complained about difficulty finding a parking space.
"That's the last I'll be in Tamaqua in 18 months," she reportedly said, according to employees of Klingaman's, an office supply house.
Tom Knepper, of Klingaman's, said traffic changes will have the greatest impact in the area closest to the bridge.
"It's a devastating blow for this block and the next one," he said.
His wife Susie agreed, but added that there is no reason for people to avoid coming downtown.
On Tuesday, Tamaqua baker Lucy Gerace set up a portable tent at the Marchalk Law Office next to AAA, where she sells her home-baked goods. She, too, reported a marked decline in business despite picture-perfect weather and her usual assortment of buns and pies. She decided to make up for the downturn by selling her products at the Hometown Farmers Market on Wednesday.
One local resident said he immediately observed the drop in traffic and loss of people.
"I noticed it when they put up the barricade," said Bill Linkhorst of the Majestic House Apartments. "When they closed that bridge you could see the change right away."
A passer-by said he wonders how rerouted truckers are dealing with a particularly taxing go-around.
"To make trucks take a 20-mile detour to get to the east end of town from here is nuts," said Dave Hafer, Auburn.
The detour utilizes state routes 309 and 54. The detour for vehicles weighing over 30 tons, or 40 tons for combinations, are directed to state routes 309, 54, 209, 443, and 902.
Route 209 in that part of town has an average daily traffic volume of 6,453 vehicles. But that figure has been sliced since the bridge closed, and a few who walked there are finding East Broad Street more inviting.
Comments from passers-by were positive and upbeat, noting that downtown is more pedestrian-friendly right now.
"There are far fewer trucks," said shopper Jeanne Pawslawsky, taking photos of the Hometown Heroes banners near the Five Points intersection. "Come downtown. You can walk around the streets more safely. It's better now."
He says now is the perfect time to come downtown.
"We're all still here and things are running smooth," he said. "The doors are open. You can't detain downtown Tamaqua."