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Sep 30, 2019 11:19 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Business Owners Are Coping With First Effects Of Main Street Construction

Sidewalks remain open during the construction. RACHEL VALDESPINO
Oct 2, 2019 10:27 AM

Westhampton Beach clothing store owner Elyse Richman was forced to relocate Shock, her 33-year-old Main Street shop, because the building she was renting a space in was about to be rebuilt.

She had planned to move into a building across the street to continue operations there in the meantime. But once the village’s Main Street reconstruction project began on September 16 — two weeks earlier than originally planned — she discarded that plan and decided instead to close her business until the building is rebuilt, letting her two employees go. She knew she wouldn’t attract enough customers during the village project to offset the cost of rent and other expenses.

“Why would I? I would go, and for what?” Ms. Richman said of relocating.

A chain-link fence that lines the sidewalks separates businesses from an active construction site, with vehicles hauling away chunks of Main Street and heavy equipment drilling into the ground. This is the type of view that merchants will see out their storefront windows until mid-May, when the entire project is expected to be completed.

The street will be closed through January, but all year-round businesses and sidewalks will remain open, as well as all parking lots. There are currently several pedestrian and vehicular crossings to get to the other side of Main Street. From February to May, sections of the sidewalk will be closed while they get replaced.

Next week will bring some changes in terms of crossings and road closures. Potunk Lane will be closed to traffic in order for construction crews to begin work on the underground storm drainage, so detour signs will direct vehicles to alternate routes. Vehicles and pedestrians could cross next week from Sunset Avenue to Moniebogue Lane, and pedestrians could cross in front of the Beach Bakery Grand Cafe and from Mill Road to Library Avenue.

The project was not a surprise, as plans had been discussed publicly by village officials for several years. But seeing the construction crews take over the street has left some Main Street merchants feeling distraught — partly because they believe that officials should be doing more to support the businesses.

“It’s very difficult,” said Ms. Richman, who also owns Baby Shock and Shock Ice Cream on Main Street, both of which remain open. “There’s no one on the street. There’s nobody here. I didn’t think it was going to be that extreme.”

Other merchants, while already seeing business losses, remain optimistic that the finished product will be worth the present disruption and are taking proactive steps to attract more customers.

Lynne Jones, who has been operating Lynne’s Cards & Gifts on Main Street for 30 years, is concerned that her business might not survive the project. She created a back entrance so that customers who park in the rear parking lot can easily access her store. Since construction began, she said, there has been a “dramatic drop” in sales.

“We’re going to do the best we can. We have to grin and bear it, and we’re going to try to take it with grace,” Ms. Jones said with a laugh. “I’m looking at it from the long view. It’s going to be an improvement once we get through it. It’s just going to be hard to get through it. But we will.”

At Salt & Loft, a trendy luncheonette that recently opened at the intersection of Main Street and Library Avenue, owners Barry Bernstein and Karolina Nesko made a number of changes in an effort to keep their restaurant thriving. They are now offering a prix fixe menu and happy hour, and have installed three big-screen televisions to show sports. Mr. Bernstein said they would also like to organize special programming events, like movie nights in the restaurant, and yoga classes.

He acknowledged that Salt & Loft is in a particularly good spot because it has its own parking area and is located where cars and pedestrians can still cross through Main Street. The only other crossing is for pedestrians next to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, so businesses located in between the two are not quite as accessible.

“I think that more has to be done in terms of the message through the media, through postings, through signs that we’re doing this construction, the businesses are open and we’re here, you should come here,” Mr. Bernstein said. “Change that feeling that Main Street is closed. It’s not closed.”

He made sure to preface that by saying he strongly supports the efforts of the Village Board: “I’m behind them. I feel like they’ve put a tremendous effort into this and I support them wholeheartedly.”

Ms. Jones shared a similar sentiment that village officials are doing what they can to identify where parking is available and informing drivers that Main Street businesses are still open.

“It’s a group effort. I think there’s a learning curve with this type of thing, and I don’t think if you’ve never done a project like this before, you don’t really know how to deal with all the possibilities,” she said. “And I think the village is doing a good job of trying to put up signage and get people here as best they can.”

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Short term pain for long term gain. A worthwhile and much needed enhancement.
By Mouthampton (437), Southampton on Oct 6, 19 2:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
Typical behavior of SHOCK owner. She is always complaining and never satisfied. Happy to see the other business owners in the community recognizing the opportunity and positive future for this wonderful beach community.
By FHMJ (5), North Hills on Oct 6, 19 4:27 PM
How about putting temporary Cassone type trailers or tents at the village green and allowing shop owners to sell their products from the makeshift venue? Would be cool to have live music and a bon fire on weekends to promote the shops as well. Just an idea.
By Michael Tessitore (76), East Quogue, New York on Oct 6, 19 8:51 PM
FHMU please clarify your comment
, always complaining and never satisfied, what does that even mean ?

By Shock (47), on Oct 6, 19 8:58 PM
This is about the dumbest project I've ever seen. I've never seen a road close on a Main Street for 6 months. They are totally destroying businesses on Main Street what a shame
By chief1 (2791), southampton on Oct 6, 19 11:00 PM
It's short term pain for long term gain. We will have the nicest and environmentaly cleanest Main Street in all of the South Fork.
By tenn tom (255), remsenburg on Oct 7, 19 7:34 AM
Of course with 95% of the Village not residing in the area for 7 to 9 months of the year at least the birds (oh they fly south also) and the squirrels will enjoy the environment. Wondering if your livelihood could handle the short-term pain!
By realistic (472), westhampton on Oct 7, 19 8:17 AM
1 member liked this comment
There are two parts to this with only one part being vetted in the article. Her "building is being rebuilt". What does that mean and on what scale? How does the town issue a permit such as that when they have their own Main Street initiative? Sounds like she tried to piggyback her closure on the street closer (very smart) and the second space just isn't going to work with the street construction (nice try but don't cry to us..that was your risk and it didn't work). As for anyone who is surprised ...more
By Hambone (514), New York on Oct 9, 19 1:24 PM