Route 9 roadwork taking toll on Hadley businesses

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-04-2023 8:45 PM

HADLEY — Customers trying to get into the Wanczyk Nursery parking lot on the morning of Dec. 28 may have found their way blocked by a deep, narrow trench dug for utilities extending across the entrance and a police officer directing vehicles past the Route 9 business.

Already being negatively impacted by the disruptions on the state highway, owner Michael Wanczyk says the temporary closure of the entrance to the 166 Russell St. business is the most visible sign yet of the construction’s impact on the 68-year-old business and its year-round gift shop, store and attached greenhouse, now in its third year of operation.

“It’s not just the slowed traffic that’s causing issues, it’s also the construction vehicles parked in front of our entrance, blocking our signs, parking in our parking lot and making it difficult and frustrating for our customers to stop by,” Wanczyk said.

The 2.4-mile project extending west from the area of the shopping malls to town center is mostly a nightmare on weekdays, Wanczyk said, though work stops on weekends, and the business, with gifts, bird seed and bird feeders and a variety of house plants, was mostly unscathed through the holiday season.

When complete, that section of the state highway will have three 11-foot vehicle travel lanes, one in each direction and a dedicated turn lane, as well as a multi-use path on each side. The town is coordinating replacement of century-old water and sewer lines with the $25 million project being handled by Baltazar Contractors Inc. of Ludlow.

Even while he appreciates that town officials are in regular contact with the contractor and the state Department of Transportation, Wancyzk said he is not being given a heads-up on what is happening on a daily basis, and would have preferred that most work take place at night.

“For us, we don’t hear anything,” Wanczyk said. “It’d be nice to know what’s happening just to let employees know they have to use the side or back entrance.”

Keeping customers away

At Greggory’s Pastry Shop at 195 Russell St., where owner Gregg Thornton took orders for specialty cakes and cupcakes, business can often be slow until 3 p.m., with some people choosing to come in late afternoon to avoid the construction.

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“It’s really messing us up,” Thornton said.

His belief is that the project, which could extend to 2026, could have been more efficient and minimized disruptions by not doing work in the mornings and afternoons.

“There’s no reasons they shouldn’t do this at night,” Thornton said. “If it’s three more years, that’s scary.”

Based on conversations he’s had with people, they are finding it takes significantly more time to get to his business.

“I’m sure it’s affecting many people,” Thornton said. “They all say so.”

Customers also talk about their experience on the road when shopping at Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, at 227 Russell St.

“It’s definitely a topic of conversation,” said Diane Slezek, the assistant store manager at Sam’s.

Similar to Greggory’s, Slezek said she is seeing some customers coming to the store later, during the 3 to 8 p.m. time frame, to avoid getting stuck in traffic and the periodic lane closures that halt one direction of traffic at a time. One customer told her about a 30-minute drive from the intersection with East Street to the store, a trip less than half-a-mile that normally would take a minute or less.

“It’s very frustrating,” Slezek said. “Night work would have been ideal.”

Slezek, though, said the store management appreciates the detail officers, occasionally popping in to stay warm, and one advantage for customers has been the ease in making left turns from the lot when the work is in front of the store.

“We have a very loyal following, which we’re very happy about,” Slezek said.

The Route 9 road project came up at a recent Select Board meeting during a discussion about the town’s bylaw prohibiting single-use plastic bags, foam containers and plastic straws that begins on Sunday.

Jennifer Sanders James, the town’s licensing coordinator, said that she has received a number of calls about the new bylaw, but there is fear from some businesspeople that they will be considered a “trouble business” if they object or seek deferment.

“I have other businesses that are terrified about this because of Route 9, and the fact that their business is suffering so much because of the construction already,” Sanders James said.

Select Board Chairwoman Jane Nevinsmith said she is sympathetic to the situation businesses are facing.

“The town is very business friendly and we are just in the long run working to have plastic reduction in our town,” Nevinsmith said.

Long term, there is hope that everyone will benefit from a road that will be easier to travel.

“When it’s all said and done, it may be better,” Slezek said

“If we survive this, it will be an improvement for us and everyone else,” Thornton said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>