Vankleek Hill’s big dig is a Catch-22 type of situation.  The Highway 34/High Street construction project will improve sewer, water, and roads in town when complete, but it’s causing headaches for business owners during the construction process.

Rebecca Bradley owns Pink Bow Tie, a retail shop located at the corner of High and Main Streets.  She also works part-time in Ottawa, so her mother, Anne-Marie Gauthier often looks after the shop, which sells women’s fashions and gift items.

“It’s terrible,” said Gauthier about the construction and how it has affected business.

“When it was completely closed, people didn’t even know how to come here,” she said, about when the entire intersection was closed.  Main Street is now open in both directions and Highway 34 north of the intersection is now open too.  Only 34 south of the intersection remains closed.  Gauthier said that has made it difficult for people coming from Highway 417 or further south on 34 to get to the centre of town.  She said people from Vankleek Hill know how to get around but those from outside do not know of alternate routes.

Garages and gas stations depend on driving for business, and Denis Martin, owner of Martin Tire Shop said business has suffered there.

“I did lose a good 40 per cent,” Martin said about the drop in customers since the big dig and road closures began.  Martin, whose tire shop includes a Shell service station, said that when Highway 34 was closed from Higginson Street south to the Main Street intersection, he wishes it had instead been closed from the Foodland south because traffic could still access the nearby MacEwen gas station but not his Shell pumps.  Martin said gas sales went down as a result.  He did say though that some regular customers have still been showing up during the road work, but “By-passers don’t come in.”

At Vankleek Hill Home Hardware, Owner Raymond Aubin said business has been “slow” during the construction work.

“It went down about a third,” Aubin said about the drop in customers.  He’s optimistic, though that the shoppers will return.

“Hopefully, we’re going to get people’s buying habits back to Vankleek Hill,” he said, after surmising that many people have been going elsewhere. Displays of Christmas decorations and gift ideas are up around the store.  Aubin is hoping those and the upcoming Vankleek Hill Christmas Home Tour help bring in customers.  Aubin said the customers who have been coming into his hardware store have been complaining “a lot” about the closed streets.

The road work has even been a challenge for non-retail businesses.  Realtor Nancy Fielding said, “I’ve been working from home” as her usual habit during the construction, rather than at the Royal LePage Performance office on High Street.  On a recent Tuesday afternoon, both Nicko’s Resto-Bar and the Blueberry Hill Bistro were closed.  Nicko’s had a sign in the window advising of new business hours and assuring customers everything is safe, referring, no doubt, to the temporary boil water advisory that is in effect due to water being supplied through temporary, above-ground mains while new underground ones are installed.  The hours at Blueberry Hill are Wednesday to Sunday, opening each day at 4:00 p.m.

One business owner in Vankleek Hill said the Highway 34/High Street project has not affected his business.  “Most of our customers here are local and know their way around,” said George Gabra of Vankleek Hill’s Pharma-Choice/Pharma-Choix, located on Main Street, near the main intersection.  He said he gave directions to some people about how to get through town, but emphasized that most of the pharmacy’s clientele are regular customers who go there for their needs.

Concrete work is now taking place on the $3-million dollar project.  Sanitary sewer repairs and water main replacements are being paid for by Champlain Township, but most of the project costs are being paid for by the Province of Ontario.