Abbey Weiss was sitting in the Bella Domicile showroom on the final day of September, as the walls and chairs began to vibrate every couple of minutes.
“I’m waiting for something to fall out of the ceiling,” Weiss joked.
The vibrations had been on and off for the past week, a new feature of the Nesbitt Road construction that’s part of the larger Verona Road project, which recently moved into Fitchburg.
Bella Domicile, an interior design company, is one of dozens of businesses that have been affected by the construction since September.
And for the Verona Road Business Coalition, that means a new set of clients to focus its assistance and lobbying efforts on. Since Verona Road construction began in the Madison area two years ago, the VRBC has been helping businesses where work was and still is being done with communication, signage and a “collective voice” of businesses facing the same challenge.
That means helping to guide customers who have to take new routes to businesses, of course. But, as so often happens with large construction projects, it also means dealing with “a lot of unexpected surprises and glitches,” said Cindy Jaggi, the VRBC project manager.
Those have included, at times, the loss of water, electrical and phone services.
“You name it, in the first three weeks we had it,” Jaggi said in September.
The DOT and construction workers have been “extremely responsive” to her and business’ concerns, she said, explaining that’s a key part of the partnership they’re hoping to build as the construction continues for an unknown length of time.
That uncertain end date – mostly a result of recently revealed proposals for the 2017-19 biennial state budget that threaten to delay the project for a second time – is a headache all of its own, Jaggi said.
“We’re only three weeks in, and we’ve seen it already,” Jaggi said. “Yet these businesses have been very gracious, they’ve been very understanding.”
So far, the VRBC has helped connect business owners with the DOT and also worked with the department to erect signs providing alternate routes when Nesbitt Road and Anton Drive were closed.
The key through all of it, some business owners said, is communication. That could be email newsletters, Facebook posts or just alerting customers when they call with questions.
Jaggi said the VRBC saw the Madison businesses were “heavily impacted” over the past couple of years, and it hopes to help the Fitchburg businesses avoid that as much as it can.
“This is not the time to avoid (the businesses),” she said. “We know that the road construction has an impact.”
When the phone went down just weeks into construction, Weiss was grateful for the business’ online clientele.
“(The phone being down) was really hard for us,” said Weiss, one of the VRBC’s block captains in the Nesbitt Road area.
She quickly went to Facebook to alert any customers who might be heading their way that day.
“You just really have to be on top of it,” she said.
Another Nesbitt Road block captain, Yahara Bay Distillery vice president of sales and marketing Jill Skowronski, noted a similar problem for one of her neighbors.
“Last week, True Coffee called and said their water was turned off and they were not informed about it,” Skowronski said. “Obviously, if you’re making coffee, you need water. It’s been tricky.”
Other challenges, though, were more expected.
Ron Frey, a co-owner at A Touch of Class hair salon, said he has had to focus on ensuring regular customers don’t use the construction to take their business elsewhere.
“You just have to keep reminding them (what to expect),” Frey said. “You don’t want to give them an opportunity to go elsewhere.”
No end in sight
One of the more frustrating challenges for businesses is not knowing how long any particular aspect of the construction will last.
Construction schedules can fluctuate in the short-term based on weather and availability of supplies, among other things.
“Not everything is on the schedule,” said Skowronski. “You might think it’ll take a week but it takes two weeks. They’re doing a great job communicating.”
In addition, the overall project no longer has a certain end date. The overall project is scheduled to end in 2019, but when Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal came out last month, it included a delay of the project because of transportation funding issues, which had also been a major issue during the previous biennial budget process.
“It’s frustrating to hear because we have planned,” Weiss said. “All of a sudden it’s, ‘Oh, never mind.’”
While many legislators – including some in Walker’s own party – oppose the governor’s proposal on road construction projects, Jaggi said the continued struggles to find sustainable funding for construction has given the VRBC a mission that goes beyond just the local project.
“It’s one thing not to start a project, then the businesses can stay status quo,” Jaggi said. “But when you start a project, I think you have to be able to complete that project.
“We advocate for the state to explore sustainable funding options for our transportation infrastructure to support the roads (and) bridges to keep our transportation vital across the state,” she added.
However long the work lasts, teamwork throughout will be key for many of the area’s businesses.
One of the biggest disruptions so far was the DOT adjusting its timeline to close Verona Road for a weekend. Jaggi said contractors originally planned to do that work Oct. 1-2, leaving Verona Road closed during the annual Beer Fest at Quivey’s Grove.
When she asked if they could change it, they were able to move the construction back a week, which instead left it closed for 27 hours Oct. 8-9.
“Everything we’ve asked for, they’ve resolved,” she said. “That was going to be a very big deal.”
While the DOT’s responsiveness has been key, Jaggi said, the businesses themselves might be even more important to one another, as they encourage customers to patronize other businesses in the area and support one another when they have their own shopping to do.
“The coalition is committed to supporting these businesses and shopping locally first,” Jaggi said. “That can make a big difference.”
Skowronski, whose business is new to the area as the distillery moves from its Madison location, agreed.
“We’re really working together,” she said. “We’re all kind of trying to support each other and work together to make it through this time.”