Georgetown project seen as block to business

Emma Marie's Antique Shoppe is surrounded by a sea of construction work.

Work on the S.C. Department of Transportation's $14 million project to fix some long-standing flooding issues near City Hall in Georgetown is going on all around the store, and building owner Connie Lawrimore says she is worried about how much worse it will get and how it will affect the business she owns with her daughter, Emma Lawrimore.

"We're probably going to have to close our doors for a month or two, when the construction work gets farther down Front Street," she said. "It wouldn't be feasible to have it open and the lights on and all with no customers able to get to us."

The lower-lying areas along Fraser Street are prone to flooding during rainy weather, especially when it also comes during high tide. The DOT's project aims to fix those problems by installing a pump station and bigger pipes, among other things.

Emma Lawrimore said she has never had a problem with her building flooding, but she said she has already heard from customers about how difficult it is to get to the shop because of the construction.

"They say it's still confusing, even with the detour signs," she said.

And she said the schedule the DOT gave them earlier in the project has not been followed.

"What they're doing is completely backward from what they said they were going to," she said.

The work is going in an order that is different than what was originally planned, said Anna Levy, the resident construction engineer for the DOT.

"We hit a 100-year-old sewer pipe that no one knew was down there," Levy said. "So the company had to revamp and do some things in a different order."

She said a revised schedule for the different aspects of the project is in the works, but the expected completion for the project overall has not changed from its May 31, 2012, deadline.

"There is a lot of interest in this project," she said. "It's not easy to explain. You try to prepare people for what to expect, and then it changes."

She said the DOT plans to publish the revised schedule for the project as soon as it is available to give people more of an idea of what is going on.

"My intention is when we get that schedule to shout it to the roof tops," Levy said. The DOT also plans to meet with the businesses and residents who will be affected by the changes.

In the meantime, Connie Lawrimore is worried and uncertain.

"It's going to definitely hurt my business, but it's going to hurt downtown business overall, too," she said.

Many Front Street business owners are concerned that the construction detours will make it harder for visitors and tourists to find their way to downtown.

"No business needs any more hurdles right now to overcome, and this is going to be a big hurdle for Front Street," said Rhonda Morris, owner of Morsel's Market and a member of the Front Street Merchants Association.

She said it would help downtown businesses if temporary signage was put up during the construction to let people know how to get to the shops and restaurants along Front Street.

City Councilwoman Jeanette Ard, who also owns Colonial Florists on Front Street, made that suggestion at the last City Council meeting but said she is not optimistic her suggestion will come to fruition.

"Communication is the most important thing, and we aren't communicating very well with people who don't know what's going on," she said.

Across the street from Emma Marie's Antique Shoppe is Carolina Collectibles, an antique and art store operated out of the home of its owner, Edward Lewis.

Lewis said he worries that the construction in the area and traffic detours will make it even harder for people to find his business.

"Obviously, if people can't get to us, they can't spend any money," he said. "And they might not be able to see me well anyway."

Lewis said he is very concerned about the future of his store.

"If gas does what it says they're going to do, and they dig basically a moat around our block, we're going to get a double whammy of negative economic impact," he said. "I can't imagine anything hurting my business any worse."

Morris said many business owners are "kind of holding our breath."

"We're on the back end of three bad years. We've lost far more businesses than we've gained. We're all concerned," she said.