Merchants learning to cope with bridge work
Sales tax numbers for Glenwood Springs were up again in May, but some downtown merchants say the start of the summer tourist season has been challenging amid early stages of Grand Avenue bridge construction.
“We’ve been somewhat steady through June, but not compared to last summer,” Noel Bismark-Pettit, owner of the Dancing Bear Trading Post in the 700 block of Grand Avenue, said Tuesday morning while assisting a welcome flurry of customers.
From his observation, the bridge construction has definitely slowed foot traffic in the downtown area compared with previous years.
“But I do think there are enough people out directing people and helping them get around, so that’s been nice,” Bismark-Pettit said of the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association’s wayfinding guide program that was implemented this summer to help visitors negotiate the construction zone.
“I’d say our numbers have been down a little bit, but it really hasn’t affected us too much,” said Nicole Nelson, owner of the Elizabeth Dean Boutique, also in the 700 block of Grand.
“I probably answer questions about the bridge 10 times a day,” she added. “I always try to make sure to explain how beneficial it will be, and how awesome it’s going to be when it’s done.”
Overall, retail sales in Glenwood Springs remained strong through May, when sales tax collections were up nearly 3.5 percent compared with May 2015, according to the city’s monthly sales tax report. Year to date, sales are up more than 4.8 percent.
A good sign that tourism remains strong is that the city’s lodging tax is still running nearly 8 percent ahead of last year, and for May was up more than 6 percent.
But many merchants, restaurant and lodge owners are holding out for the June, July and August numbers as the real indicator of how things are faring in the first of two straight years of construction on the $125 million bridge replacement.
June sales and accommodations tax numbers will not be available until early August.
“I think we’re sitting pretty good as far as visitors go,” said Lisa Langer, tourism marketing director for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association. “The lodges I have been talking to say they are full, and we’re not really seeing any type of down situation from the bridge construction.”
If there has been a complaint from tourists themselves it’s the amount of construction and traffic delays along the entire I-70 corridor between Denver and Glenwood Springs, she said.
“But people are so used to it this time of year,” Langer said. “Every city in every state has this going on.”
If anything could improve it would be the number of locals frequenting downtown Glenwood Springs and its shops and restaurants, she said.
“I have heard from a few of our restaurateurs that the tourists are coming in and filling the tables, but some of the locals are not as visible,” she said.
Bismark-Pettit said the bigger concern for him and his and wife, Joanna, is their Dancing Bear General Store on Sixth Street, where the sidewalk has been coned off recently.
To attract business, they are planning a Polish food tasting from 3-6 p.m. this Friday and Saturday at the Sixth Street location.
It’s one of the many ways downtown businesses are making the most of things amid the disruptions associated with the bridge project. Several merchants have banded together to start the monthly “Glen-a-palooza” promotions and outdoor activities on the second Friday of each month.
“It’s a good way to put a positive spin on the construction,” Grand Avenue Sweets owner Kathy Fangman said. “It’s a necessary evil, but we have got to make the most of it.”
Fangman said it’s hard for her to compare customer traffic this summer to last because she moved her shop to 721 Grand Ave. a year ago from the 800 block of Grand.
“But it did feel like June was off a little bit,” she said.
Bismark-Pettit said his only gripe as far as the work zone goes is the loss of the public restrooms on Seventh Street that had to be torn down to make way for the new bridge.
“We probably have 40 people a day asking to use the bathroom,” he said. Several portable restrooms are available along Seventh Street and Cooper Avenue, and the wayfinder guides have become accustomed to pointing the way.
Guide Craig Dean said most of the visitors he encounters are having little trouble getting around the downtown area and through the construction zone.
“They all have their smartphones and seem to know where they are going and how to get there,” he said. “But I’m here to help if they need me.”
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