Business owners frustrated by sidewalk restoration plans
MANCHESTER — Some downtown retailers expressed frustration this week to find out that their sidewalks — which they said were uneven and unsafe — will not be part of a sidewalk restoration effort slated for the core downtown area.
The city plans to spend $380,000 this fall to reconstruct some brick sidewalks downtown. The work is slated for the east side of Elm Street — the Citizens Bank side — from Merrimack to Bridge streets, a six-block stretch of downtown.
A smaller, one-block portion of the west side of Elm Street will be paved — the sidewalk between Stark and Mechanic streets.
But areas north of Bridge, or south of Merrimack Street, won't see any work.
"I think this block deserves a good sidewalk," said Mike Grady, owner of Collector's Heaven, a baseball card and sports apparel store between Central and Lake Avenue. He said his store and George's Apparel are two of the biggest downtown retailers, and pedestrians on his block are usually headed toward the Verizon Wireless Arena, he said.
Yet, his sidewalk won't be touched.
"Our block has a tremendous amount of traffic," Grady said. "We want to make sure (pedestrians) are all right when they're walking here."
City officials put out a memo this week announcing that Lyman Construction will start work on the sidewalks next week.
City Engineering Manager Todd Connors said the money is going to restore sidewalks that are in the worst shape. Connors said there have been some preliminary discussions about future restorations, but the money is not now available.
The city used debt to fund the project.
The center of downtown features several blocks that are totally bricked, while blocks farther from the core have brick accents located along curbs and between concrete slabs. They were installed in the 1970s, said City Design Engineer Bruce Thomas.
While stylish, the brick walks require maintenance, and that hasn't taken place for at least the last five years, Thomas said. Mortar gets loose and pops out. Then the brick loosens. Eventually, it gets lost. The city then fills in the holes with asphalt, but lost mortar joints generally remain open.
"It's fun late night watching the girls walk by in heels," said Steve Matluk, a manager at The Gyro Spot, which will have its sidewalk replaced.
Thomas said the new design calls for bricks to be much closer together — about a half-inch — and to be filled with sand. That will require less maintenance, he said.
"We think it's lower maintenance and fewer trip hazards," Thomas said.
Connors said if any money is left over, mortar on the west sidewalk from Merrimack to Stark streets will be replaced.
Meanwhile, others will have to wait. Krysten Apostoles, owner of K-Fab Boutique, wouldn't get a new sidewalk. She is on the west side of Elm Street, near Dow Street. Her sidewalk is asphalt, filled with cracks and uneven.
"Mine is probably one of the absolute worst on Elm Street," said Apostoles, who recently opened at the location and fears that winter will be treacherous for her customers, some of whom visit wearing high heels. She said she complains to the mayor about her sidewalk, but nothing has happened.
Connors said her block would not be eligible for the project because it does not include brick. However, if her sidewalk needs work he will see what can be done.