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Owner blames construction for store's closure

Public works director regrets problems experienced by businesses but says worst leg of construction is over

Leigh Black Irvin
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The women's clothing boutique Rustic Diva’s went out of business Monday with its owner claiming months-long construction on the street led to declining sales.

The inventory and furnishings at Rustic Diva's boutique on East 20th Street in Farmington are prepared for removal on Monday after the closure of the store.

Owner Brittany Cox said work that took place on 20th Street from May through September between Clayton and Sullivan Streets forced her to close the doors. The store was located at 2340 E. 20th St.

“We got hit by the construction within weeks of opening,” said Cox, who opened the business in April. “I wouldn’t have picked this location if I had known about it.”

Until moving here, Cox was running a similar store in Ruidoso. That store, she said, continues to be successful. She now plans to move to Texas and open a store there.

Cox said the construction made it difficult for customers to access the store. At one point, she said she had to close the boutique for three days because employees were not able to access it. Signage to help customers know where to turn to get into the parking lot was inadequate, she said.

Cox said she and her employees complained daily to the construction crew and to the city, but the situation did not improve.

“We were having really low sales because customers just couldn’t get in,” she said.

A sidewalk along East 20th Street in Farmington is closed because of construction work on Dec. 13.

When Cox learned that road work would be resuming in a few months, she decided to cut her losses and move the store to Texas.

“I know (the construction) will last 100 days or so. I’ll be in the center of the hub, so I’m closing it up,” she said.

A few blocks west at 2222B E. 20th St., the owner of RC Area Rugs said she has experienced similar problems during the construction.

“I’m hanging on by my fingernails,” store owner Rosemary Needham said. “I have another year on my lease, but I only have enough money to keep the store open for maybe another two months if business doesn’t pick up.”

Needham said she relocated the store from another Farmington location because she thought 20th Street would attract more business. But she said she has been told by many of her customers that they have been avoiding the street because of the construction. Like Cox, she claims signage to help guide customers to the store was lacking.

“I have the best prices around, but people aren’t coming in. Now, it’s just a habit for them not to drive on 20th,” she said. “I just can’t go through another construction (project).”

Needham said she was not aware of the planned construction until after she moved into the store.

“I found out about three weeks after I moved in,” she said.

TRC Construction workers install electric lines Sept. 21 at the intersection of North Hutton Avenue and East 20th Street in Farmington.

Airgas, located at 1800 E. 20th St., experienced similar problems, which led to decreased sales during the construction period, branch manager Bilyn Ray said.

Ray said no business access signs were set up to guide customers to her store, which supplies gas tanks for welding and other industrial projects, as well as oxygen tanks for medical purposes.

“I also asked them to please not work on both sides of the road at the same time, but they did, two Wednesdays in a row, which meant gas tanks had to be delivered into the store from the back, which wasn’t safe,” she said. “Communication was the key thing — that’s all I asked. Just let me know when construction was going to happen and where so we could accommodate our customers, but that didn’t happen.”

When told of those issues, city Public Works Director David Sypher said he regrets the problems experienced by businesses during this year’s construction, but he issued assurances that this was the worst leg of construction in regard to slowing down traffic and obstructing access to businesses.

“We were doing several projects at once, and that’s what was painful,” he said. “But we had to do it right, and it would have been worse if the projects had been spread out.”

This year’s projects involved installing a water line and underground power lines, Sypher said. Additional construction is slated to begin again in April, and will involve putting in pedestrian sidewalks, installing electrical poles and overlaying asphalt.

Sypher said those projects will not be as disruptive to traffic or businesses. Portions of the street will be closed for just a week at a time for the overlay. 

“This is a demonstration project for the Complete Streets model, and when it’s done, it will be beautiful,” he said.

Sypher said there were open meetings and notices sent out to businesses before the construction began, and he said his office did not receive many complaints from business owners. He added that any large project with multiple layers is bound to have some communication issues, and he suggested that some of the owners of the buildings may have failed to communicate the construction plans to those leasing the properties on 20th Street, which he said has the second-heaviest traffic use in the city after East Main Street.

Improving communication, Sypher said, is one of the main goals of the Public Works Department.

“We’re working on perfecting our website,” he said. “We’re making it very user friendly, with information on projects and how to avoid construction.”

Sypher said most of the feedback he has received about the city’s investment in the infrastructure has been positive.

“By the end of June, we will have a beautiful corridor striped for bike use that will attract people,” he said.

For information on city construction projects, visit fmtn.org, click on the “Projects and construction” icon, then click on the “Streets” button on the left.  

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.