Angry downtown Mystic business owners pleaded with the Groton Town Council Tuesday to halt the Mystic streetscape project, saying it's crushing their businesses and jeopardizing the health of the downtown area.
“Just end the project now. Get it out. Get them out of there,” said Ross Mandel, __ He said he lost thousands of dollars in May, is losing hundreds each day in June, and if the project drags on through August, “I’ll probably just fold.”
Mary Stanley, who owns two businesses including the Velvet Swan, said she's drained her savings, sold her stocks and is borrowing from her husband.
“I could work at Burger King and make more money than I’m making at my businesses because nobody comes in,” she said.
Stanley said she tried to talk to a town employee about the project and the woman had no empathy.
“She was very smug and had this grin on her face and I said, ‘What are you laughing at? This is my livelihood,’” Stanley said.
The streetscape project, __, but has suffered delays and coincided with bridge repair and a recession.
The project has resulted in torn sidewalks, snarled traffic and businesses sometimes denied access to their front walks.
Work was supposed to be done by June 30, but business owners said they confronted Planning and Development Director Mike Murphy last week and were told he could not guarantee workers would be out by the end of August.
Murphy did not attend Tuesday’s meeting and could not be reached for comment.
Four Stores Gone
In the meantime, Genevieve Triplett, who runs Stonington Feed, said four businesses have moved out or closed: The Cooper Shoppe relocated to Olde Mystick Village; Cee Cee’s shut down last month; a screen printer on Holmes Street signed a short-term lease but may not stay; My Sister’s Closet the consignment shop, and a camp store on Cottrell Street also closed.
Triplett said she needs to know when work will be done so she can plan for it, and bring in fewer employees or close the store and save on electricity. But she said no one tells her anything.
“The communication has been beyond poor,” she said.
Mandel and other business owners said the project has taken away at least a dozen parking spaces, widened sidewalks so much that delivery trucks and emergency vehicles can’t pass cars, and installed curbs so high you can’t open a car door.
Mandel said at one point, workers tore up the sidewalk in front of his café and the hole filled with water, trapping customers inside for three hours.
He added that he believes its unattractive.
“The project is horrible, it’s ugly, it’s sinfully ugly,” he said.
Groton Town Mayor Heather Bond Somers said she would ask for a meeting of Mystic business owners and town planners so she and the town manager could attend and find out what the plan is. She said the council would not allow the contract on the project to be extended.
Councilor Dean Antipas said he lives on one side of the river and works on another, and the situation is “painful” to watch.
“The contractor originally had a termination date of June 30. Whose idea was that? Because you know that those deadlines are never met,” he said.
Donna Williston, owner of Framers of the Lost Art, said she said she hates lawsuits, but someone should be held accountable.
She said the only reason businesses haven’t spoken up until now is they have been taught they’re helpless in the situation, like rats in an experiment.
“And we’re drowning,” she said. She pleaded with councilors to let businesses try to recover this summer.
“Leave us alone for July and August, I beg of you,” she said.