Wake County

Wake Forest businesses try to lure customers during bridge replacement

Crews work on the Rogers Road bridge between South Franklin Street and Heritage Lake Road in Wake Forest. The road closure has caused a drop in business for some shops in the area.
Crews work on the Rogers Road bridge between South Franklin Street and Heritage Lake Road in Wake Forest. The road closure has caused a drop in business for some shops in the area. ccioffi@newsobserver.com

Only a few tables were occupied at lunchtime on a recent Thursday at Charlie’s Kabob, a Mediterranean restaurant near the corner of Rogers and Heritage Lake roads.

The lunch rush has been cut in half since construction on the Rogers Road bridge began in late June, said owner Charlie Hamaty, who put out signs and a flag along the roadway in hopes of drawing customers.

“I’m trying to do my best to keep us going until they finish the bridge,” Hamaty said.

Some other Wake Forest business owners say they are also seeing fewer customers since the bridge-replacement project began, and they are getting creative in an effort to keep business going until the stretch of Rogers Road from South Franklin Street to Heritage Lake Road reopens in early November.

Massage Destination in the Heritage Pointe Shoppes plaza increased its advertising and began hosting free seminars, said Jennifer Aston Brooks, the store’s office manager.

“Just to get the advertising out there, and to bring the foot traffic in,” Brooks said.

Massage Destination and some other businesses created a discount program called “bridge bucks.” When customers spend $5 during construction they receive a discount coupon to be used after the bridge reopens.

Dairy Depot, an ice cream shop, is taking part in the program, but owner Karrie Mathues said business has dropped by 30 percent.

“On a typical day, before this happened, we were averaging 1,500 (customers),” she Mathues, who has owned the shop with her husband, Jim, for more than four years.

Sales grew each summer, Mathues said, but this year she had to cut employee hours because of the bridge project.

Hamaty said he cut staff during the afternoon rush because customers can’t get to his restaurant, eat and get back to work during their short lunch breaks.

He said sales also dropped last summer when a bridge on Forestville Road past Heritage High School was being replaced.

“We went back up, but then we went right back down,” he said.

Wake Forest has tried to let residents know that businesses in the area are remaining open through press releases and email alerts, said spokesman Bill Crabtree. The town also attempted to work with the Chamber of Commerce to create a “detour discounts” program but scrapped the idea after it didn’t get traction.

Some business owners said they’re not seeing a change because of the project. Jay Briotti, owner of Ads N Art Screenprinting, said his business doesn’t rely on customers dropping in, and it hasn’t seen a slump in sales.

“People just don’t wander into a T-shirt shop,” he said. “It won’t be too bad.”

Structurally deficient

The Rogers Road bridge provides a convenient route from Wake Forest to Rolesville.

With the bridge closed, drivers heading toward Rolesville take a nearly five-mile detour to Heritage Lake Road, then to the N.C. 98 Bypass and finally to South Main Street.

The bridge, built in 1975, was listed as structurally deficient by 2007, meaning it was safe but required significant maintenance.

The $2.6 million project will feature a new five-lane bridge and sidewalks. It will be taller to allow for greenway access underneath.

Mathues, who owns Dairy Depot, said her businesses is particularly hurt because ice cream shops rely on summer sales to make it through the slower winter months. But she said she’s happy workers are replacing and widening the bridge.

“It will be lovely when it’s finished,” she said. “We’re looking forward to that.”

Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi