Businesses struggle to stay afloat while slide work continues

Joe Higbee and Michelle Nielsen expect to weather the storm, but other business owners along State Route 166 may not be as fortunate.

Higbee, who owns Talk’s Cheap Wireless, and Nielsen, proprietor of Bay Street Hair Co., both said they have not seen a significant drop in sales since SR 166 closed on July 16 for construction close to Ross Point.

While workers shore up the hillsides to prevent landslides, the road is closed to through traffic, in effect killing most of the drive-by traffic many businesses along that stretch of road rely on.

“I haven’t been hit too hard, just because a lot of my business is referrals and what not,” Higbee said. “People are coming here to do something with their cell phones. I was worried about it, but it didn’t affect me a whole lot.”

Higbee, who has owned the wireless store for three years, said he considered closing shop and working out of his house making sales calls but decided to stay open and see what would happen.

“Of course I’m losing a little business, the drive-by business,” Higbee said. “I’ve been very fortunate not to feel the pinch as much as the other businesses.”

SR 166 was closed from July 16 until Aug. 6, when roads crews opened it back up for the Cruz Car Show and Festival by the Bay. But it was shut back down Aug. 15 and will remain closed until completion of work by Sept. 3.

“I think everyone is a little confused on just how long it’s going to be closed,” Higbee said. “I’ve been quite fortunate.”

Nielsen echoed Higbee, saying she has seen a drop in walk-in customers but she is doing well enough despite the road closure.

“Of course I don’t have any drive-by customers anymore,” Nielsen said. “Other than that, it hasn’t really affected us a lot.”

Neilsen, who bought Bay Street Hair last year, has relied on her regular customers and has even had some of the construction crews some in to get their hair cut.

“I have my regular customers that always come to see me,” Nielsen said. “And they still do — I haven’t lost any clients over the closure totally but it has definitely cost me money pretty much every day.”

Both Nielsen and Higbee said they know some of the other businesses have struggled since the closure and they both are trying to help as much as they can. Both said that they have heard Chug-A-Tug Espresso and Fiesta Mexican Restaurant have been hit particularly hard.

“I try to buy lunch (at Fiesta) as much as I can,” Higbee said. “Maybe a couple times a week.”

Nielsen added that she has been wanting to hire another stylist but has been forced to wait until the construction is completed and walk-in business picks back up.

SR 166 is closed at the junction with State Route 3, while “Road Closed” signs are up at the corner of SR 166 and Port Orchard Boulevard. The route and all of the businesses are accessible from the eastern end.

“I think the city put up signs saying that the businesses were still open,” Higbee said. “But that’s about it. I’ve had a lot of customers that didn’t realize that they could come through the barrier. They thought the whole road was closed.”

Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel has publicly encouraged people to visit those stores on SR 166 and those downtown that are affected as well.

“I’ve talked with some of the guys that have come in here and they said it’s a really major job,” Nielsen said. “Hopefully once they’re done they won’t have to close it anymore after this.”

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