SKOWHEGAN — Owners of George’s Banana Stand, on North Avenue, have been going bananas all summer with road work on the town’s sewer separation project confusing customers, closing streets and cutting into sales during their busiest time of the year.

For customers of the mid-size grocery store with a busy meat department, it’s been “a pain in the butt” getting to and from the store all summer.

Owners say they are losing, on average, $800 a day in sales — roughly $24,000 a month. The store has lost an estimated 54 customers a day this summer, they said.

North Avenue from near Chandler Street to High Street has been closed to southbound traffic since July, as the town completes the latest phase of its combined sewer overflow or storm water separation project.

“We have these few months in the year to make money. I mean, you know, it’s our livelihood,” said Darlene Holt, the store manager. “It’s been a rough summer for the business, very difficult.”

Holt said she did the arithmetic: The average customer spends about $15 per visit, and if 54 customers decide not to come in to shop, that’s about $800 a day in lost sales.

Holt and meat department manager Brent Wright, son of owner Randy Wright, said the summer months, with everyone having cookouts and the traffic generated by the Skowhegan State Fair in August, are the time for top sales.

“Grilling season — especially in my department — it’s huge,” Brent Wright said. “We make it through the winter, everybody buys hamburgers; but to sell a lot of meat in January and February versus July and August, it’s a little different.”

Customers on Wednesday said streets that were open one day were closed the next day, with traffic diverted to an already crowded Madison Avenue.

“It’s been a pain in the butt,” said Debby Salisbury, who lives on nearby Maple Street. “You have to go all the way out and around, and for me to get back home, I have to go all the way around. It’s been quite a hassle. One day I couldn’t even get here. I had to cut across the intersection, and I couldn’t even get here. It was bothersome.”

Salisbury’s daughter, Kalee Salisbury, said she drove taxi for part of the summer and could see the problems firsthand.

“When you’re taxi driving, you really do have to go all the way out and around,” she said. “You can’t go up. You’ve got to find some other way to go around. It was pretty stressful sometimes.”

A water problem Oct. 6 compounded the Banana Stand’s problems, Holt and Wright said, flooding the downstairs offices. The store is insured, but the disruption in business also set them back.

“It put us out of commission, workwise. We were down,” Holt said, noting that the cost of the damage amounted to about $10,000. “We know it was a total mistake and not negligence on their part.”

Holt and Wright said their employees also have suffered, losing hours as work crews dig up the pavement, block off streets and divert traffic away from the store, reducing the flow of customers.

Janine Stadig, the new owner of Alice’s Restaurant just down the street, said her business slows down a lot during the week because of the construction but resumes on the weekend, becoming “super-busy” and illustrating the effect of the work-week traffic.

Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore said that when the work began, it was supposed to stretch well into November, but problems with the sandy soil, the depth of the sewer pipes and an unpredictable water table have put the project behind schedule.

Now, he said, construction crews will work for as long as they can into the winter, then come back in the spring to finish the job.

Customers said Wednesday they already are at a point of frustration.

“It’s been more of a nuisance for me,” said Skowhegan resident Cecil Gray, stopping Wednesday at the meat counter. “I still come here because they have things I want, but it’s still a nuisance, and I’m sure for some people, it will deter them from coming here.”

Joseph Sheehan, who lives with Rebecca O’Brien on adjoining East Dyer Street, said “it’s been hell.”

“I’ve had to go all the way down the road here to get across sometimes,” he said.

O’Brien agreed. “It’s been a hassle when they have this blocked off, and we have to do a whole complete U-ee just to get back home,” she said. “It’s a pain in the butt.”

Dore said the majority of the work is being done on the west side of North Avenue in the southbound travel lane. Traffic has been diverted down Jewett Street to Madison Avenue.

When the project is complete, the stormwater will go directly into the river, the sewer waste will be directed to the town’s waste treatment plant and every home along the North Avenue route will be hooked directly into the town sewer system. Pipes that currently empty into the storm drain will be moved to the sewer line.

Holt and Wright said they understand that the work is necessary and they are not blaming anyone for their losses, but it’s going to take them awhile to recoup. They said that within a week or two of the start of construction, they could see business slowing.

Holt said that in the middle of July, the work was concentrated right in front of the store, scaring customers away altogether.

“Roads got closed off, signage wasn’t there and people got really confused,” she said. “One Friday night I had to go out there and move cones myself because they got done working and they didn’t get moved. We’ve had to send people home because of the down time in sales. It’s the only thing we can do.”

Brent Wright said the business will not be able to recoup what is lost.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. “There’s no way to get that back. We’re just thankful to our loyal customers.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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