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July 24, 2019

After Rt. 29 closure, sales slump at local businesses

Photos/Don Del Rosso
Buckland Farm Market co-owner Sherry Coffey says sales have dropped by $6,000 to $7,000 per week since July 8, when the detours began.
Neal McMichael says revenue has dropped about $200,000 at McMichael’s Equipment.
Spitony’s Pizza and Route 29 Northside Restaurant receipts have declined 20 to 30 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
It has slowed us down a whole lot. People really didn’t understand how to get here. And once they got here, they needed directions on how to get back.
— Buckland Farm Market owner Sherry Coffey
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Staff Journalist
His New Baltimore equipment sales company’s revenue has plummeted by about $200,000 since a portion of northbound Route 29 approaching Vint Hill Road shut almost three weeks ago for road safety improvements.

Neal McMichael, owner of McMichael’s Equipment Co., partly attributes slumping sales to the road closure that took effect July 8.

“It’s a slow time of the year for me,” said Mr. McMichael, 63. “So, it’s hard for me to gauge how much of it has affected my business.

“Some of it might be the weather; it’s a little hotter this year, a little drier. Some of it’s got to be the project.”

McMichael’s, which sells tractors and related products, stands on the west side of Route 29, just across from Vint Hill Road.

“People from Warrenton aren’t coming here,” said Mr. McMichael, who also operates a Nokesville equipment store. “And, I’m sure the people coming here from the south — it’s such a hassle, I don’t think they’re coming.”

But the project will allow him to save perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a pad site on the property for a new equipment showroom and office, he said.

At no cost to Mr. McMichael, Route 29 project contractor Chemung Contracting Corp. of New York ultimately will haul about 12,000 cubic yards of blasted rock and roadbed from the construction area to the equipment company site.

A contractor told him it would cost about $200,000 for that work, he said.

The hauling arrangement also will cut significantly Chemung’s costs.

In interviews, merchants on both sides of the busy four-lane highway spoke of steep revenue declines they experienced after the Virginia Department of Transportation closed an almost one-mile stretch of the northbound lanes. That has forced the detours of about 25,000 vehicles a day.

VDOT’s $3.5-million “Cut the Hills” project will remove two humps to enhance driver sight distance approaching the dangerous intersection.

The highway should reopen by Aug. 2, according to Chemung, the project’s general contractor.

Meanwhile, New Baltimore-area detours have directed traffic to secondary roads. A regional detour at Warrenton encourages through-traffic to use Route 17 north to Interstate 66 at Marshall.

Bill and Sherry Coffey own Buckland Farm Market.

“It has slowed us down a whole lot,” Ms. Coffey said of the closure. “People really didn’t understand how to get here. And once they got here, they needed directions on how to get back.”

Buckland Farm Market sales have dropped by $6,000 to $7,000 per week since July 8, she said.

“It’s been a real blow,” said Ms. Coffey, 67.

The revenue loss forced the couple to lay off two employees who may get rehired during the fall season, she added.

Effie’s Frozen Favorites weekday receipts have dipped 30 to 40 percent, said co-owner Mark Farris, who declined to cite a dollar amount.

As for weekends, “if it’s down,” Mr. Farris said of revenue, “it’s not down that much . . . . I would say during the week, (the closure) had the biggest hit on us.”

He believes the closure signs perplexed drivers, he said.

“I think they kind of confused folks where it was going to be shut down and where the true effects were,” said Mr. Farris, 50.

To help offset that, “We tried to get the get the word out via Facebook and had stuff posted on the (ice cream stand’s) windows to educate people on how they could get around.

“And I think once that caught on, that kind of brought people back. They realized it wasn’t completely shut down and total gridlock.”

Spitony’s Pizza and Northside 29 Restaurant have experienced a 20 to 30 percent and 35 percent decline in receipts, respectively, owner Bill Chakalos said.

“I don’t have the numbers in front of me as far as the dollars,” said Mr. Chakalos, 59.

He believes the Route 17 detour specifically accounts for a sizeable drop off in business at both eateries.

“Mostly, people are feeling that there’s no way to get through to the restaurant area,” Mr. Chakalos said.

Battlefield Baptist Church lies within the construction zone. VDOT has maintained access to the church during the closure.

But, the closure may have taken a toll on attendance, Pastor Greg Corcoran said.

“I’m sure that has rolled into some people’s thinking — just because it’s a little bit of a headache to deal with,” suggested Pastor Corcoran, 53.

In turn, that might explain the steep drop in Sunday collections for the last two weeks, he said. Battlefield Baptist weekly collections support church operations and programs and help fund 124 missionaries around the world.

From June 2 to July 14, the congregation’s Sunday contributions averaged $30,000, the pastor said.

On July 14 — the first Sunday after the closure — they dropped to almost $23,000, Pastor Corcoran said.

The Sunday, July 21, offering yielded $10,000 less than the seven-week average, he said.

But factors other than the closure could figure into reduced attendance and contributions, Pastor Corcoran said.

“Did they stay away because of the heat or are they on vacation? Summer is always a crazy thing, anyway, because you have people coming and going for this, that and the other.”

Despite the closure’s financial cost them and inconveniences, merchants and the church back the road project.

“I know it’s for the best,” Ms. Coffey said. “There’s been so many people hurt at that light down there. It is good for the people who won’t get hurt.”

Mr. Farris agreed.

“We recognize the short-term pain for the long-term gain of safety,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of accidents there.”

From 2013 to 2017, VDOT reported 113 crashes in area’s northbound lanes.

“It’s really got to get done,” Mr. McMichael said.

“At the end of the day, our prayer is this work results in a more safe corridor to travel,” Pastor Corcoran said.

Mr. Chakalos, whose family opened Spitony’s 45 years ago, knows the highway as well as anyone.

“The road improvement has to happen,” he said. “It’s been a dangerous part of this whole area for quite a few years. And, I’m glad that they’re doing it at this time, because there are people on vacation and school’s out.”

He worries that after the road reopens motorists traffic will continue to use Route 17 and result in a permanent loss of some business.

To counter that possibility, he has recommended to VDOT that electronic signs indicating that Route 29 has reopened remain in place for about month, Mr. Chakalos said.

“After this is all cleared and open, hopefully, we are going to get our trade back from the people who have travelled through here.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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