June 19, 2018
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Opinions of Bangor merchants vary about the impact of the West Market Square construction project on their bottom line

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — How the revamping of West Market Square is impacting businesses depends upon where they are located, owners and managers said Friday.

Businesses on the outer corners of the square — Paddy Murphy’s Pub and Mexicali Blues — have seen little or no impact on the number of patrons coming through their doors. Restaurants off Main Street and the Charles Inn have experienced a drop in business.

“It’s hard to say what’s impacting business these days because Bangor is changing every year,” John Dobbs, owner of Paddy Murphy’s, located on the corner of Main and Broad streets, said as the lunch crowd began to arrive. “The construction is not affecting us at the moment. Our patrons are watching it and excited for what’s coming.”

The visible portion of the renovation is a modernization of West Market Square — new brickwork, wider sidewalks, benches, lighting, trees and more. The entire square is essentially being rebuilt from scratch.

Over the course of the $1.27 million project, which began in mid-April and is expected to be completed in late August or early September, more vital work is going on beneath the surface.

“We’ll be replacing the sewer on Main Street, which was installed just after the Civil War,” Art Morgan, director of Public Services for the city, said in March. “We’ve got some large infrastructure needs, we’re going to take care of those as part of this project so we don’t have a catastrophic failure that we don’t anticipate in the future.”

Other sewer lines in the project area were installed before World War I and have partially collapsed. Crews also are replacing a water main and sewer infrastructure on Broad Street that was installed at the turn of the 20th century.

The large pipes stacked in the square, gravel pile, and a backhoe and other heavy equipment block the ability of people to see other businesses in the square from the street. Broad Street and Bangor Alley are shut down during construction but the sidewalks remain open.

“I get at least one cancellation a day due to the construction,” Connie Boivin, owner of the Charles Inn, said. “There’s no way for people to get to me.”

She said that the loss of parking on Bangor Alley and Broad Street, especially the handicapped parking space, has made it difficult for people to check in, get their luggage into the lobby, then move their car to the parking garage for longer-term parking.

“The construction people have been very helpful, but a lot of people just don’t see me and don’t come,” Boivin said. “We know we have to deal with it but this is the only time of the year we can really make money.”

Paul Beaulieu said that business at the Big Easy, the bar he manages in the Charles Inn, is off nearly a third from the same time last year. He said it was especially difficult given that the long, harsh winter and high heating costs prevented people from going out and spending as they have in previous years.

“It’s been detrimental to our business,” Karen Young, manager of Ipanema Bar & Grill and the Reverend Noble Pub, said. “Business is down about 30 percent. We’ll know more about how it’s impacting us in July and August. We’re hoping they’ll be done a bit earlier than planned so our patrons can eat and drink outside from the end of August until mid-October. We know they miss that.”

Young said that although the restaurants are open year-round, just like seasonal operations on Maine’s coast, they are far busier in the summer and early fall than at other times of the year. Until construction is completed in late in August or early September, the work prevents the restaurants from having tables outside.

“On the whole, we haven’t seen an impact on business from the construction,” said Julie Baker Leaden, manager of Mexicali Blues, located on the corner of the square opposite Paddy Murphy’s. “We’re having a hard time keeping the windows on that side of the building clean but on the whole, it’s been a nonissue. The Waterfront Concert [series] have been good for us. “We try to direct our customers to our neighbors around the corner in the square. We’re trying to keep a positive attitude and a positive vibe going here.”

Everyone interviewed Friday said city officials had kept them informed about the project and had listened to their concerns.

BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this report.

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