Road work curbs customers in Niles

NOW: Road work curbs customers in Niles

NILES, Mich.-- If you're heading to the Bluegrass Festival or anywhere else in Niles this weekend, beware of traffic trouble, as major construction is underway along M-51, also known as South 11th Street. The five-lane road is reduced to only one lane going North for roughly another four weeks.

Going into Niles from South Bend, for example, will stay pretty much the same, one lane going North is still open. But to go South, commuters must navigate a detour. Business owners say customers aren't coming in anymore since it started.

George Lynch, owner and operator of Green Stem Provisioning, a dispensary along the construction zone, said sales plummeted since the lane closures started Wednesday.

"We're down 25% with two lanes open. As of yesterday, we're down 50% of our business with only one lane open," Lynch said. "It's absolutely ridiculous, it's a stupid way to do it."

Lynch and his daughter and brand director, Katie Lynch Lindgren, said they are scared they cannot survive another four weeks at just 50 percent.

"The way that it's cut off our blood flow is disheartening," Lindgren said. "Especially when we don't have corporate money to lean back on or six other stores. It's just us, we've been here supporting the community for five years and I don't know if we're going to make it."

So, why the lane closures?

Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) spokesperson Nick Schirripa said it's for the underground pipes that need to go in. He confirmed the public wasn't alerted that this specific closure was starting until late last week but says MDOT also didn't know until then. One factor, he said, is coordinating with the contractors doing the gig.

In fact, he said they asked the contractor not to start the work before Memorial Day, instead starting it this week. That was to avoid one headache, he said, but it meant people were notified of upcoming construction right before a holiday weekend.

"Obviously, this is something we have to be sensitive to the community about," Schirripa said. "Before this started, and even while its ongoing, our team is there talking to business owners. Most of them are in favor of the project, they understand why we're doing what we're doing, and they're excited to see a new roadway out front. There's some who obviously aren't happy about it and that's completely understandable. This certainly is an inconvenience at best."

The full project is set to be done by October, Schirripa said, but the one-lane phase of this work should be done by the Fourth of July.

And that date is huge because according to Lynch, many of the businesses on this road are dispensaries and the Fourth of July is their biggest holiday, even bigger than the unofficial holiday 4/20. So, if the construction is still deterring customers come that holiday, they fear it could mean the end of their small business.

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