Nearly every day for about three years, Terry Bickers made a point of stopping by Papa’s Deli, grabbing a bite to eat and visiting the longtime downtown restaurant’s employees whom he considers friends.
“I’m just a creature of habit,” said Bickers, 66, who began the tradition of eating at Papa’s Deli with his father, William, who died in April 2010.
“I don’t like change,” he said.
But when the intersection of Fourth and Washington streets closed, making the restaurant difficult to reach, Bickers stopped going to Papa’s Deli. That was Sept. 12, exactly a week after a $1.7 million project to renovate Fourth Street began.
“It was just kind of a turnoff for me,” Bickers said. “It was a hassle.”
A little more than a month later, Bickers can eat in peace again. Where Fourth and Washington streets intersect is planned to reopen to traffic at 6:30 a.m. today. That’s sweet relief for consumers such as Bickers and many downtown businesses.
“We’ll come here early in the morning, pull the barricades, and she’ll be open,” Gary Davis, project foreman for Rieth-Riley Construction, said Wednesday afternoon.
The popular downtown intersection has been covered in new bricks. Walkways designed to surround the square plot of street are expected to be finished in a few days.
“It will help, really,” said Cummins Inc. employee Utkarsh Bhati, after finishing up lunch at Piepers Gourmet Catering on Wednesday. “We have these eateries nearby, so we used to cross this intersection daily.”
Washington Street’s reopening could not have come sooner for Tonya Streeval, manager of Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor, just south of Fourth Street. Streeval estimated she’s seen a 30 percent decline in sales during the construction period. This weekend, she plans to have two parties of 50 on Friday and already has about 120 reservations for lunch Saturday.
“We have a huge, busy weekend,” Streeval said.
Across Washington Street, Scotty’s Burger Joint hopes to see the same kind of traffic increase this weekend. General manager Randy Cramer said foot traffic has been slowed since construction began
Sept. 4 but particularly when the intersection of Washington and Fourth Streets closed the following week.
“Without traffic, there’s no (customer) traffic,” Cramer said. “The businesses around here are suffering.”
Near the northwest corner of Washington and Fourth streets, O’Child Children’s Boutique is approaching its first year of business in Columbus. And business is slow.
“I had a significant spike (in sales) before (the construction),” said O’Child manager Brittany Zoufal. “And then (sales) just went back down to like when we were first open. So I’m really anxious for this intersection to open back up because I’m bored here.”
O’Child’s was empty as Zoufal spoke.
Next door, Papa’s Deli had about six or seven customers. Like at other nearby shops, Papa’s Deli manager Linda Wolfe said business slowed once the intersection of Fourth and Washington streets closed.
“I blame the intersection being closed a lot (for business slowing down),” Wolfe said. “It wasn’t too bad as long as the intersection was open. But once they shut that down, we really felt it.
“We’re all hurting from it. We all are.”
That was Wednesday. Today, Wolfe and other merchants won’t have the clogged intersection to blame. And their customers won’t have an excuse for avoiding downtown.
“I’m sure I’ll start going there again,” Bickers said. “I’ve made friends down there. They know who I am.”
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