Small businesses survive impacts of the economy and construction

‘E’ Street work causes difficulties for local companies

Paige McKnight, a barista at Michele’s Coffee Corner, in Washougal, makes a white chocolate caramel mocha Monday. The “E” Street business, owned by McKnight’s mother Michele, has experienced a decline in business due to the economy as well as recent roadwork. The “E” Street construction project, which involves conversion of the road width to two through-lanes and a center left turn lane, as well as bike lanes and sidewalks from Sixth to 32nd streets, is expected to be completed in September. Buy this photo

Michele McNight spends six days a week working for herself, and she wants to continue living the dream of having her own business.

As the owner of Michele’s Coffee Corner, in Washougal, she has experienced financial difficulties due to the economy –– and more recently –– due to construction on “E” Street.

McKnight is not alone with her frustrations as other companies on the busy road have also reported a decline in business.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “These are my friends, neighbors and customers. We are all in the same boat. We’re all trying to survive. It’s almost impossible.”

McKnight said her business took a 50 percent hit with the economy and a 25 percent hit because of the “E” Street construction. She has owned the coffee shop at 1803 “E” St., for three years.

During that time, McKnight said she shops locally for products such as milk for her business at Washougal Food Center, Bi-Mart and Safeway.

“We help each other,” she said.

Michele’s Coffee Corner has a drive-thru, as well as walk-in option with seating available inside and outside. It also offers free wi-fi. In addition to a variety of coffee beverages, McKnight sells scones, muffins, T-shirts, coffee mugs, purses and candles.

The “E” Street improvement project, which includes conversion of the road width to two through-lanes and a center left turn lane, as well as bike lanes and sidewalks from Sixth to 32nd streets, is expected to be completed in September.

“I understand it’s growth and improvements and such, but it’s just bad timing,” McKnight said. “Construction has been unbelievable. Every different utility has been in front of my shop.”

With 85 percent of her business coming from the drive through from 7 to 10 a.m., she has not appreciated when crews block the entrance with traffic cones at 8 a.m.

McKnight has not attended any of the meetings designed for “E” Street business owners. The meetings, held at Los Dos Compadres, Corner Cupboard and Neder’s Cafe, have involved officials from the City of Washougal, Westech and Wallis Engineering.

“They’re not going to change anything,” McKnight said. “The meetings are mainly vent sessions –– a bunch of angry people. It’s almost pointless. The meetings beforehand would have changed something.”

Washougal Interim Public Works Director Jim Dunn said the meetings have provided opportunities for businesses to discuss their concerns.

“We want them to bring those forward,” he said. “If there is anything we can do at all, we will try to do it.

“We talk about their issues that are going to inconvenience them,” Dunn added. “They can contact me, and I can get a hold of the project manager.”

The “E” Street project includes the replacement of the World War II-era surplus steel pipe water line with 12-inch ductile iron.

Dunn expects the new water line will provide 100 years of service.

“The water line was deteriorated and needed to be replaced,” he said. “The project would have needed to be done regardless. We have funding now. It would cost more in a few years.”

Funding sources for the $7.1 million project include traffic impact fees, federal funds, C-TRAN, a Community Development Block Grant, the Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Improvement program and a state Transportation Impact Board grant.

Dunn said he realizes the project has negatively impacted businesses on “E” Street.

“We have put signs up that say ‘E street businesses are open. Shop local,’” he said. “The economy is tough right now. Construction on top of that has been hard. We are listening to their concerns.

“If there are issues, please bring them to our attention, because we might be able to help out,” Dunn added. “There has been some very constructive input from the businesses along the corridor at merchant meetings. If we don’t know about it, we can’t help.”

For more information or to contact Dunn, call City Hall at 835-8501 or email jdunn@ci.washougal.wa.us. “E” Street project updates are available online at www.cityofwashougal.us.