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Amid roadwork, Cottage Grove business is down but not out

Bonngard's Meats owner Greg Bonngard said while business has slowed since nearby road construction began, he has taken advantage of the county and city's efforts to promote his shop. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

Business at the Shoppes at Almar Village is slow for the time being, but shop owners say they are not to be counted out.

With major road construction closing 70th Street west of Keats Avenue (County Road 19) and causing inconvenient detours, getting area consumers to the strip mall has been tough, business owners said.

"People just don't want to go through the construction," Bonngard's Meats owner Greg Bonngard said last week. "We've got a lot of customers coming from the north and (the construction is) a lot to go through to get to us."

Crews began tearing up 70th Street, from east of Jamaica Avenue to Keats Avenue, in May but closed the nearly one-mile stretch of road to all vehicle traffic July 29. The detour now routes eastbound drivers north on Jamaica Avenue and then southeast on Military Road, which intersects with Keats Avenue just north of 70th Street.

The purpose of the joint $7.73 million project between Washington County, the South Washington Watershed District and the city of Cottage Grove is to install stormwater piping, construct a roundabout and realign 70th Street, Keats Avenue and Military Road (County Road 20).

The county's portion of the project is $3.64 million, the watershed district's portion is $3.15 million and the city is paying $94,000.

In an effort to help the businesses retain customers during the anticipated 90-day closure, the county and city have worked together to provide increased signage and kept in constant contact with each business owner.

"We have weekly visits with each business and talk to them and answer any questions they may have," said Mindy Leadholm, communications coordinator for Washington County. "We give them weekly updates about the project and also send out those updates to the roughly 600 people who have signed up to receive that information."

In addition to keeping in contact, which Leadholm said was crucial, she said the county has provided paper copies of the detour maps for businesses to display.

"This lets customers know where access points are and how to get to Almar Village during the construction," Leadholm said.

Helping to promote the businesses

Along with extra signage, the city has also allowed the businesses to submit deals and promotions in the form of "Construction Coupons." The sheet of coupons, which includes $1.50 off each pack of bratwursts at Bonngard's Meats and $5 off a purchase of $30 or more at Whispering Gardens garden center east of the intersection, has been distributed to various places throughout Cottage Grove. Businesses were also offered the opportunity to create commercials.

"We have been rolling commercials for participants on Vimeo, our local cable company, Twitter, Facebook, our City website, among others," Economic Development Director Danette Parr said. "Not everyone took us up on the offer, but we have been trying to spread the word for those that did want to participate and get the marketing to remind customers that all of Cottage Grove is open for businesses."

Bonngard said he has seen a positive impact from the coupons.

"It gets people coming back in here when they see what we have on special," he said. "We are offering more lunch specials during the day to offer the construction crews and customers more options for coming out."

Dennis Brothers Liquor Store is using its social media outlets to promote monthly promotions and Carbone's Pizza also has specials on the coupon sheet which include two large one-topping pizzas for $21.99 and a pizza and wing special for $26.99.

"I'm glad they are redoing the road because I saw a lot of near accidents," Bonngard said. "We just have to keep a positive attitude during the next couple months."

Heavy rain earlier this summer and the recent extreme heat has not slowed the construction process, Leadholm said, adding she anticipates a completion date around the end of October.

"We strongly encourage customers to continue to make the effort to support the businesses in construction areas," Parr added. "We look forward to construction ending and to the new roadway that will help even more people travel to the great commercial offerings we have in Cottage Grove."