By LOU WILIN
The prospect of concrete barricades, orange barrels, ramp closings and traffic tie-ups on Interstate 75 is making some restaurateurs and retailers anxious.
“We’re a little nervous,” said Jennifer Swartzlander, co-owner of Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn Co., 1042 Interstate Court, near the U.S. 224 exit from I-75. “We rely on traffic from the highway for our business.”
“A large portion of (customers) come off the highway,” she said. “They either have lunch or dinner at Cracker Barrel or stop for coffee at Tim Hortons and see us and stop in.”
Her business neighbor, Suzi Kinn, co-owner of Tim Hortons and Cold Stone Creamery, 1050 Interstate Court, said reconstruction of the U.S. 224 overpass at I-75 a few years ago reduced her business by 30 percent. The ramps were closed then for long periods of time.
Kinn said she is hopeful the construction this time will be less of a drag on her business.
“As long as they don’t close the ramps, I think we’ll be fine,” Kinn said. “If they close those ramps, it’s going to affect everybody tremendously.”
This time around, U.S. 224 and Ohio 12 ramps off I-75 will be closed “at times,” state officials said.
But even if the exit ramp stays open, reducing I-75 traffic to one lane each way can hurt business, Kinn said.
“People are not going to want to get off when you have construction,” she said. “You just want to get through the construction.”
“Whenever there’s any type of construction like that, where it’s congested or it’s bogged down or the lanes are reduced, that’s going to affect business,” said John Roether, manager of Steve’s Dakota Grill on Broad Avenue near the U.S. 224 exit.
Hotels like Hilton Garden Inn, Country Inn & Suites, and Holiday Inn Express have no worries, said John Whitson of Whitson Properties, which owns those hotels.
“Hotels are a destination,” he said. “People are going to get to their hotels.”
In fact, the hotels have already benefited.
“We’ve got some hotel business from some of the construction crews,” Whitson said.
But Whitson said he is worried for retailers along I-75.
“They could feel the impact a little bit. People not wanting to deal with the mess and the traffic detours,” he said.
But some restaurateurs said they do not think the construction on I-75 will reduce business.
“I don’t think we’re really worried about it disrupting business,” said Madison Fitzgerald, crew chief for Culver’s. In fact, “We do get busier during construction season because of all of the construction workers.”
Herb Stump, owner of Pilgrim Family Restaurant, 1505 W. Main Cross St. at the Ohio 12 exit, was almost indifferent.
“We really haven’t given it much thought because a lot of my business is local,” Stump said. “We get a few people off the interstate but most of it is local. They can figure out how to get around (construction) to get here.”
All of the businesses expressed support for the widening of I-75 through Findlay, even if it causes them some woes in the meantime.
“As far as the widening, I’m all for it as soon as they get it done,” said John Beeson, manager of Outback Steakhouse, 930 Interstate Drive.
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