Main Street businesses roll with the punches

Lovell fourth-grader Kathryn Mickelson heads into the designated crossing zone on Shoshone Avenue in Lovell Tuesday afternoon as S&L Industrial employee and crossing guard Desaree Wimmler looks on. David Peck photo
Lovell fourth-grader Kathryn Mickelson heads into the designated crossing zone on Shoshone Avenue in Lovell Tuesday afternoon as S&L Industrial employee and crossing guard Desaree Wimmler looks on.
David Peck photo

It’s been a challenging summer for Lovell Main Street businesses with the dust, noise and disruption of the Main Street reconstruction and water and sewer project, but as the project finally moves west of the central business district, business owners feel they’ve weathered the storm.

“I was surprised how well we did, especially in June and July,” La De Da co-owner Pat Baxendale said. “Tourists came in.

“We were always cleaning due to the dust and dirt, but business wise we did really well. I thought for sure we’d be way down.”

Oddly, July was especially strong for the business at 186 E. Main, and that’s when the project was right outside the store’s front door, Baxendale said.

“In July we did exceptionally well,” she said. “Maybe it was the local events, but even people from Cody and Powell were finding us on a regular basis.”

Baxendale said she appreciates the efforts of the construction crew during a project of this scope.

“Even when they did our street at Eighth and Washington two years ago the Wilson guys always accommodated us,” she said.

Employees at the new Queen Bee Gardens honey candy storefront at 244 E. Main said the project had an effect on business but the store has bounced back.

“Before the street shutoff we couldn’t keep up,” employee Peggy Fowler said. “But that was also Lovell’s Day and the reunions.”

Business slowed when the “hard closure” shut down Main Street traffic in the 200 block of East Main, but many shoppers were persistent, Fowler said.

“Most tourists found us after tasting the candy at the Brandin’ Iron or the Mustang Center,” she said. “They all said what a mess it was trying to find us.”

And as the project moved on west, business has returned.

“You could tell when they opened up the street,” April Christensen said. “Business immediately got better.”

Employees at Lovell Drug said they were surprised how fast the project went on the 100 block of East Main. They said business has remained strong.

“We did well,” Carol Spann said. “They (the construction workers) kept the sidewalk swept so there was no mess out there. It was only three weeks. They were in and out of here.”

JoAnn Moody said customers learned to come in the back door or come around to the front via the park immediately to the east of the building, and she also appreciated the efforts of the construction crew.

“They cleaned up very well each night,” she said.

As construction workers cleaned up in front of CK Hardware (70 East Main) Tuesday ahead of the block entering “soft closure” status, owner Cheryl Knop said she’s looking forward to the street opening up. When the detour was moved to Montana Avenue, the block from Montana to Shoshone didn’t become a soft closure for several days, with traffic blocked at Montana.

“We’ve had some incredibly slow days,” she said. “It’s bizarre seeing no traffic go by on a Saturday afternoon.”

Knop said her “regulars” have continued to come to the store for needed items.

“I still appreciate those who did continue to shop here,” she said. “It’s been a long, hard closure, and I’ll be glad to get it over. Everyone will be glad when the whole project is done. They’ve done the best they could with what they’ve had.”

Big Horn Federal Branch Manager Joseph Shumway said he hasn’t seen a huge effect at the bank, with customers able to reach the building (at 8 East Main) off of Shoshone.

“I don’t know if it’s been a huge impact,” he said. “People can come in from the side and back. The regulars are here. If they need to come in, they come in.”

Tellers at the bank agreed that there hasn’t really been a drop-off.

Jim Davis at the Lovell Building Center said other than asking some construction workers to not block his parking lot, the project has “not been that bad” for business. He was philosophical about the project.

“It’s got to be done,” he said. “I hope they get it done on their timeline. It’s got its ups and downs. We opened the back gate up so people could come in that way.”

He said in many ways the project has been good for business in Lovell.

“They’ve spent a lot of money here (in town),” he said.

Robert Voss at Best Buy Auto Sales (187 E. Main) said business “definitely slowed down” when the project prevented lookers from seeing the cars on the lot, but he said business is returning.

“It’s slowly coming back,” he said. “People tend to steer away from Main Street. But it’s picking up slowly.”

Hen House (210 E. Main) owner John Lafko said business has held up pretty well, thanks to the loyalty of his customers.

“Numbers wise, the project didn’t affect me a ton,” Lafko said. “Tourist traffic was next to nothing. When the street was closed I didn’t see one tourist, but I don’t depend a ton on tourists. It’s not like we’re in Cody.

“Most of my regular customers made the effort to shop here, which I’m thankful for.”

Now that the project has moved west, Lafko said business is picking up again.

“We’re seeing more walk-in people, and more people are driving by, noticing the store and coming in,” he said. “That’s been helpful. I just wish they’d open the rest of the business district.”

Red Apple store manager Mike Allred said the project actually steered customers to the store when the western detour turned at Shoshone Avenue, but even after the hard closure reached the store customers have continued to shop at Lovell’s only supermarket. He said the fact that the store has a number of ways to reach the parking lot has helped.

“We’re grateful for the customers who continue to shop with us,” Allred said, noting that customers have been making fewer trips to the store but buying more on each trip, perhaps due to the construction.

Craig Trumbull of the Brandin’ Iron Restaurant said his tourism traffic was greatly reduced by the project this summer as the traveling public was steered to the north side of town. But Trumbull has repeatedly expressed  support for the project, calling it a necessary disruption.

“We’re very blessed by our local customers,” he said.

Trumbull said social media greatly affected motorcycle traffic coming through Lovell. He estimated motorcycle traffic was cut in half as word got out to steer around Lovell.

By David Peck