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Traffic down at St. Albans, Nitro businesses

By Charles Young

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Construction of the new bridge between St. Albans and Nitro is coming along, but business in that area has fallen way off.

"It's really hurt us," said Jess Schaible, who works at Handwash 1 in Nitro at the base of the bridge.

Ever since the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge was razed March 1, anyone wishing to travel between the two cities has been forced to go an extra 15 to 20 minutes out of their way by either traveling down Interstate 64 East toward Winfield or crossing the Dunbar Toll Bridge and going through Institute.

Schaible said the carwash's business has lessened by more than half since the bridge came down.

On a typical Saturday afternoon with good weather, he said that the carwash used to see as many as 180 vehicles. Now, they're lucky to get 60 to 80.

"Right now, everybody knows that we're out of the way. Hopefully once it gets back up we'll be back, we're in a good spot here."

Schaible said that the construction has not only affected the amount of customers, but also workers' ability to do their job.

"With the construction we've got dust blowing back on detailing jobs, it's really just a big hassle."

He's not alone in his sentiment, and the situation has business owners and Kanawha County officials discussing possible adjustments to acknowledge the hassle and lost profits.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he had initially recommended some kind of tax-based reimbursement plan for business owners and would still support a similar measure.

Steven Sluss, Assessor's office attorney, said although no such measure was currently on the table, that could change in the future. 

"We haven't told anyone that they can get a special tax break," he said. "But after we take a look at the neighborhood, the market values and revenue streams there may be some adjusting in the future."

"I had recommended that to the (Kanawha County) Assessor's office," Carper said. "While this would be unusual, they'd have to be real evidence that that had happened, but I recommended that to them. If they brought that in front of us, with real proof, I would vote in favor of that. Proof is easy; proof would be real easy to come by with things like profit loss statements."

The bridge had to come down because it was so old and deteriorated, said Carrie Bly, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.

"It was up for replacement," she said. "It was an old structure, built in 1934, and it didn't meet the current design standards."

Bly said the predicted completion date for the $23.6 million project is Nov. 8. Currently, construction is on schedule and expected to meet that deadline.

So far the crews from St. Albans-based Kokosing Construction have been working on either side of the river, building the bridge out toward the center.

Bly said the first pieces of steel connecting the two sides should be put in place next week. 

In the meantime, business owners say they're hurting. Some are finding fresh ways to cope. 

Joe Burford, owner and operator of Cash Valley Feed and Seed on Nitro's Main Avenue, said the lack of traffic through the area has led the store to begin offering home deliveries.

"We've started a weekly residential route service making deliveries in the St. Albans area," he said.

Burford's sister, Patrice Banker, guessed profits have been down by about 10 percent since the bridge closed.

Ron Thomas of Thomas Tire on Nitro's 1st Avenue said his 55-year-old establishment has never experienced a worse business year. 

With business down almost 30 percent, Thomas said he has been forced to lay off two employees.

"We try to do extra but there's no traffic," he said. "Normally, there's a steady flow of traffic, now there's nothing, it's empty."

At Buck's Pizza, farther west on 1st Avenue, owner Jeff Hart said that when the bridge was open he was able to deliver to all of St. Albans. Now it's too far of a drive to reach customers across the river. To recoup some of his losses he has expanded his delivery area to include Dunbar.

"Right now, I'm treading water," Hart said. "You've still got the same rent, you've still got the same bills, overhead. But what are you going to do? You've got people who depend on you, it's a lot of pressure you wish you didn't have to deal with."

Across the river at St. Albans Nail and Spa in the St. Albans Mall, manager Vicki Tran said she has been forced to let three employees go and has had to lower prices to remain competitive.

"This year has been bad," she said. "Because we have a lot of customers from Nitro who said that it's a long way for them to come here now."

Could relief be on the way through the tax reimbursement plan that county officials have discussed? Business owners say they've heard the scuttlebutt but will believe it when they see it.

"I'd heard rumors, that maybe the county commissioner was to supposed to give you a break on your property taxes or something but I've never heard anything about it," Hart said. 

Burford added, "We heard a discussion on it, but there was never any coordination on that."

Contact writer Charles Young at charles.young@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.

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