Continued construction creating headaches for Water St. businesses

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A joint construction project between the City of Wilmington and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has an entire section of Water Street closed to traffic, leaving some business owners frustrated.

Following years of construction, the block between Chestnut and Princess Streets reopened to traffic in summer 2020. Last month, that area was shut down once again.

“We were blocked from the south and we could only access from the north, and then they swung around and blocked us from the north and we could only access from the south,” said Imago Hair Studio owner Chad Bean. “And now we’re just plain blocked.”

Bean is fortunate to have a loyal customer base, but says neighboring businesses haven’t been so lucky.

“One of our other neighbors here shut down, he was open for a year, he had to shut down the candle shop,” Bean said. “Another hair stylist, he moved away from here, he had a lot of older clients that were just having trouble getting to him.”

Bean says customers are sometimes forced to park blocks away, and must walk by an active construction zone to reach his business.

“It’s a daily struggle,” Bean said. “I remind my clients of their appointment every night, the night before and say ‘well you might find something on the street over here, but then there’s the parking deck over here. And there’s a new deck over here, don’t park in that lot cause they’re charging $4.50 an hour.”

Just a few doors down from the salon is Wilmington’s newest Mellow Mushroom location, which opened approximately six months ago.

“There are days where there’s cranes and dust and noise and everything else, it probably doesn’t make for the greatest dining experience,” owner Robert Ray said. “People make the most of it.”

Ray says he feels the construction is causing people to avoid the area.

“The biggest problem for us is, people just don’t go down there, and a lot of people don’t know we’re there,” he said. “It really shuts down the traffic on Water and the riverfront and everything that is really nice about downtown.”

A spokesperson for the city says construction is scheduled to be complete by mid-June.

Hearing concerns from businesses, the city did lease out three parking spaces for customers in a nearby lot, but those are limited to 15 minutes. That might work for quick pickups, but Bean says it doesn’t really work with his business model.

“A guy’s haircut is 30 minutes, so they don’t really qualify for that and we do a lot of color so it doesn’t benefit us whatsoever,” Bean said.

A spokesperson for the city said the Coast Guard is still using part of that area, and if the city cannot coordinate with the Coast Guard, that could delay part of the project even further. The city is hopeful it will be able to stick to the June completion date.

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