Hanover Square shops hit hard by construction

Hanover Square construction began in October and is expected to be completed December 15.

Construction is causing Hanover Square shops and restaurants to take a big hit at a crucial point in the retail season.

Now into week seven of a two-month, $250,000 face lift to the historic square, business owners on the south side of East Genesee Street are fuming over the project.

Since October 21, street parking has been limited, street lights left dark and a six-foot chain link obscures store fronts, forcing shoppers to walk down a dark and narrow alleyway in order to enter shops. Store owners claim the obstruction has rendered new business virtually obsolete.

The construction project, which has been on the table for years, had routinely been pushed back. Last summer Hanover Street business owners recommended that work on the project begin in the fall. When September passed without any new word about the project, owners assumed it had been tabled once again until the spring.

They were shocked one Friday in October to learn that the project would begin the following Monday.

â??[City officials] knew when they were going to do it,â?? said Ed Koolakian, owner of Koolakian Menâ??s Wear, which set up shop in Hanover Square in 1957. â??They didnâ??t come around to the retailers or the restaurants and ask us how it would affect our businesses. They ignored the fact that this is our busiest time of the year.â??

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Baye Muhammad claims that while store owners did raise concerns over beginning the construction project in the summer, they did not explicitly mention opposition to the period between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the peak revenue season for retailers and restaurants.

â??This is a high profile area so no time is the right time,â?? said Commissioner Muhammad.

Hanover Square retailers were looking forward to a promised scaling back of the project last week. The Parks and Recreation department told businesses the fencing would be moved further back from store fronts, giving them greater visibility and widening the narrow walkway that exists now.

But unfortunately as thousands flocked to Clinton Square for the annual holiday tree lighting ceremony, the fences remained firmly in place and the south side of Hanover Square remained dark.

â??Itâ??s normally one of the busiest days of the year for this place and we did far less than half of what we normally do,â?? said Robert Fritcher of Anthonyâ??s Pasta Bar and Elbow Room. â??Itâ??s so eerie walking down here. If they had put up more lights or planned a bit more ahead for it we would have had more people. It detoured them. A lot of people called and thought we were closed. When I saw that they wouldnâ??t be moving the fences back I went out last minute and got a tree and a bunch of Christmas decorations to try and show people that we were open.â??

â??What I said was for Friday, but obviously theyâ??re still working in that area,â?? said Commissioner Muhammad. â??So theyâ??ll get to it when they can.â??

Despite that setback, Commissioner Muhammad assured that the project is still on track for its December 15 completion date.

In the meantime, Hanover Square retailers and restaurants will hold an event on Wednesday, December 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. to help spread the word that they are open and ready to do business this holiday season.