Millsboro Main Street Project rolls on, leaving some businesses struggling

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MILLSBORO — It’s a matter of balancing the scales of long-range progress versus temporary inconvenience.

The major eastbound artery running through downtown Millsboro is undergoing an infrastructure upgrade and a face-lift, thanks to the town’s Main Street Project, an approximate $750,000 initiative that includes new waterlines, stormwater upgrades and the replacement of sidewalks with brick pavers.

The project, which encompasses two blocks of Main Street from Church Street to State Street, requires restricted street parking, which is impacting businesses, some more than others.

“Business has been bad,” said Geneva Peruchi, whose daughter and son-in-law operate Antique Alley at 225 Main St. “We have started closing for this month — and I don’t know if we’ll do it in March or not — but we are closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because of the construction.”

Rocky Pizza, a popular eatery at 212 Main St., has lost virtually all its takeout business due to the congestion and lack of parking, according to owner Rick Kangal.

“Like 99%, we don’t have pickup. We lost 99% of pickup orders. Some (days), it’s zero,” said Mr. Kangal. “Whatever we do now is deliveries. Almost total delivery. Usually, we have a lot of pickup, especially weekends.”

Overall, business reaction has been mixed, said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson.

“I think it (has) generally been positive,” said Mr. Hudson. “We have heard a couple concerns, like either directly or indirectly from Country Kitchen and Rocky Pizza. Most of them have been pretty understanding. We’re just trying to encourage folks to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. I really believe, in the long run, it is the best thing for the town and for the downtown businesses. It’s just getting through this period of construction.”

Mr. Hudson said last week that he spoke to Gunshooter Enterprises owner Roger Perry, who “certainly has been positive about the project and realizes that, long term, it’s for the best.”

Mr. Perry said his business has not been largely affected.

“Well, it certainly does restrict the foot traffic and all of the parking spots on Main Street in the business district. It certainly does hamper that,” he said, adding that his business, on a corner property at Main and State streets, isn’t adversely affected to any large degree. “It hurts the restaurants, I’m sure, more than anything else.

“The business that I am in, people will find me,” Mr. Perry said. “For us being on a corner, we have parking in the back. There is some town parking in the back. Now, it is a little jerky trying to get into the parking across the street because you have to enter and exit from Washington Street. So it certainly does hamper (some) businesses right now.”

As of last week’s update from A-Del Construction, the project contractor, most of, if not all of, the waterline work downtown is finished, Mr. Hudson said.

“They are shifting to more of a stormwater focus. Then, on the heels of that, which shouldn’t be very long at all, they’ll start the paver and concrete work,” said Mr. Hudson.

The project schedule is to do sidewalks on one side of Main Street at a time.

“The thinking right now is the lion’s share of the work will be done by June. If not all of the work, but certainly substantially complete by June,” said Mr. Hudson.

Town officials hope work will be fully complete well before Stars & Stripes, assuming that the July fireworks event, presented by the Greater Millsboro Chamber of Commerce, can be staged this year.

“But with this weather, it’s hard. They (work crews) haven’t worked hardly this week at all. So that puts them back,” said Ms. Peruchi. “And I don’t know what we’re going to do for March.”

One complaint that the town has heard is about timing, with most businesses still struggling during the pandemic.

“The problem is there is different agency approvals. It’s just this is when everything fell into place,” said Mr. Hudson. “And it could be worse. It could be in the summer.”

Mr. Perry agreed.

“The whammy of it right now is the COVID with a lot of the businesses. Certainly, the people that have to depend on a lot of numbers, like restaurants, it is extremely tough for them,” he said.

Once the infrastructure and sidewalk work is complete, Del. 24 in the downtown area — Main Street and Washington Street — will be resurfaced by the Delaware Department of Transportation.

“I don’t want to overcommit them, but I believe the plan is for DelDOT to come in this summer, once we are finished with this town project, and resurface downtown,” Mr. Hudson said.

Augmenting new sidewalks will be multicolored brick pavers, which, in most cases, will extend from the back of the curb 5 feet toward the front of the building. The concrete sidewalk will extend up to approximately a foot or so from the building fronts.

“The thinking there is that that will help provide stability for the structures,” Mr. Hudson said. “The concern was if we went right up to the front of building and did a cut, it might affect the structural integrity.

“So basically, you’re getting waterlines, stormwater improvements and sidewalks and then resurfaced roads. So the downtown should be in good shape,” Mr. Hudson said. “It’s going to look like a totally different downtown. I’m so excited about it.”

Mr. Perry also is looking forward to the results.

“The timing probably isn’t really great. Of course, I’m sure this has been planned for a long time, so it’s tough,” he said. “The COVID, I think more than anything else, hurts the small-business community more than anything else. There really is nothing that you can do about that, and there is really nothing that we can do about this either. It’s just trying to be positive and think that, ‘Well, on the other side of the coin, it’s going to be beneficial to all of us.’

“In the long run, I think it’s going to be a big plus to have a nice-looking downtown area that people will frequent.”

Another project looms after Main Street.

“The hope is, once that work is done, then we’ll be able to shift our attention to the State Street Project, which is again resurfacing, sidewalks and stormwater,” said Mr. Hudson.