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As York County businesses get ready to celebrate the end of construction on Route 17, one area business is getting ready to close its doors.
Brenda Horton has owned and operated Twice Upon a Time for nearly seven years. She said she moved her “baby, toddler and maternity second-hand store” into the Washington Square Shopping Center three years ago.
The last two years, however, have been a struggle for her business — and Horton believes that is the result of the construction on Route 17.
“The first year here we did good. I had no trouble with rent and I took home some money,” said Horton, who said her struggles began at the same time as the construction project. “It has affected my business very badly. I’ve done $35,000 less this year than last.”
The construction project along Route 17 began three years ago, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Transportation. VDOT Public Relations Specialist Brittany McBride said the construction will expand the highway from four to six lanes between Hampton Highway and Wolf Trap Road in York County.
“Motorists were experiencing frequent traffic congestion and delays during peak travel times along the corridor, with traffic projected to increase from an average of 56,000 vehicles to 90,000 vehicles per day by 2035,” said McBride in an email. “This project will address the current congestion as well as increase capacity for future traffic volumes.”
Horton said that she has struggled to pay rent as the result of the construction, which has impeded access to the shopping center and has caused traffic delays along the highway. As a result, she has fallen behind on rent, and she said she is working with her landlord to release her from her lease — which is scheduled to end in May — by February so that she can close shop and liquidate her business’ assets.
“There shouldn’t have been any reason this store shouldn’t have made it,” said Horton. “I’ve been in business for seven years so it had to be something other than me that brought this store down…I’ve had people call me and ask me if I have an item. ‘I don’t feel like dealing with that [expletive] on 17.’”
Paulette Wilson works at Mark Friedman Jewelers in the George Washington Shopping Center, and said the construction has impacted all of the Shopping Center’s businesses.
“I’m hoping all the orange cones are gone soon,” said Wilson. “People don’t know where to turn or miss the turn and they say, ‘forget about it.’”
Horton said she contacted the county with questions and concerns but was unable to find the answers she was looking for.
“They understood. They were very sympathetic. ‘Think about how good it’s going to be once this is done,’” said Horton. “They weren’t nasty but I felt swept under the rug. There was nothing they could do anyway.”
McBride said that signage was posted at the entrances to shopping centers to assist motorists, and VDOT has been communicating with businesses on a regular basis to answer questions and inform them of updates. She said she was sorry to hear about Horton’s business.
“We did our best to help them as much as we could. We definitely didn’t want that,” said McBride. “Everyone is really excited for it [the construction project] to be over. It definitely needed to happen to reduce congestion.”
Horton said that she wishes that construction crews could’ve spent more time working during evenings to reduce the impact on business along the highway.
“I don’t know how many times I sat here and saw traffic backed up because it was down to one lane,” said Horton. “They could’ve done it quicker. Two years is a long time.”
VDOT will host the Community Celebration and Touch-a-Truck event in the Washington Square Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to celebrate the construction project’s completion at the end of the month.
Some businesses in the shopping center will be participating, including Food Lion, which will provide Powerade, gift cards and potholders to customers after Santa’s appearance, according to Customer Service Manager Macie Cobb.
Cobb said that she thinks the construction project will be a good thing once it is complete, but construction has impacted the shopping center’s businesses.
“Business has been down but it hasn’t killed us or anything,” said Cobb.
As for Horton?
“I’m a nurse by trade,” said Horton, “and I’m probably going to go back into nursing.”