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Summer fiasco: Businesses cut off from Summerfest

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Robert Herrington was excited when he heard in late May that work on the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project in Nob Hill would be completed by July 22 – in time for Route 66 Summerfest.

Herrington, the owner of Townhouse Antique Mall in Nob Hill, says he has been losing thousands of dollars a month since ART construction began.

So he was elated when he saw the news report, thinking that his nightmare would be coming to an end in the near future. He was also happy about the timing, because Route 66 Summerfest generates lots of traffic in Nob Hill, and, for shop owners, that means a major surge in sales.

But reality hit when Herrington went to the Summerfest website and saw that this year’s event would stretch only from Girard to Carlisle on Central, leaving out the area from Carlisle to Washington, including where Herrington’s business is located.

“I’m irritated, that’s what I am,” he said.

And he’s not alone.

In previous years, Summerfest has extended from Girard to Washington. This year’s festival, set for July 22, will be limited to a stretch of Central between Girard and Carlisle.

More than a dozen Nob Hill merchants signed onto an opinion piece published in the Journal last week. Among the merchants’ contentions is that they were promised in meetings last year that Summerfest would not be disrupted.

The city’s Cultural Service Department contends it never made that promise.

“We always thought there would be some sort of disruption. So much so that we had an alternative plan to stage Summerfest on Silver instead of Central,” the department said in a written statement.

“I don’t think ART had a different message from us on this. The only thing CSD committed to and met – thanks to ART’s crew – is that Summerfest would stay in Nob Hill. That’s it. We didn’t make a commitment that it would be the same program area as in years past. We didn’t make a commitment that it would stretch all the way to Washington for 2017. We knew we couldn’t commit to something like this.”

In a statement, the city’s transit department said the lawsuit filed last year seeking to halt ART delayed construction by six months.

“Prior to the lawsuit last summer, we probably would have been finished for the most part with the project by now and would not have impacted Summerfest in Nob Hill at all,” the transit department said.

Herrington said the decision to bypass Nob Hill from Carlisle to Washington during Summerfest is just another blow to east Nob Hill businesses.

“Everything the city put out on this, as far as I’m concerned, has been misleading,” he said.

The city issued a news release May 25 headlined “ART construction in Nob Hill to finish in time for Route 66 Summerfest.” And while the city noted in the release that this year’s Route 66 Summerfest would take place on Central between Girard and Carlisle, the release did not reveal that about eight blocks of Nob Hill would be left out of this year’s Summerfest.

The merchants say Summerfest has been celebrated on Central from Girard to Washington for the past seven years.

Robert Steinberg, owner of Stone Mountain Bead Gallery and the author of the opinion editorial published in the Journal, said he went to the meetings on ART last year and merchants pleaded with officials not to disrupt Summerfest or Balloon Fiesta because of the business those events bring in to Nob Hill.

“I’m disappointed that we’re being left out of Summerfest,” he said.

Reta Bray, owner of Abitha’s Apothecary at 3906 Central SE, says she’s disappointed that this year’s Route 66 Summerfest will not include her store. City officials say this year’s event will only stretch from Girard to Carlisle. In years past, the event has spanned from Girard to Washington. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Reta Bray, owner of Abitha’s Apothecary, a new age Wiccan supply store, said she went to meetings before ART construction began.

“They swore it wasn’t going to impact Summerfest then,” she said.

“I’m very frustrated,” she added.

Stone Mountain Bead Gallery has canceled the craft fair it has held for Summerfest for the last seven years because there won’t be enough foot traffic to make it feasible.

Steinberg said sales at his business are typically 10 times higher for Summerfest, but that won’t be the case this year.

Herrington said he typically brings in vintage cars and parks them by his antique shop for Summerfest. The vintage cars drew the Summerfest crowds to his store, boosting sales.

Indeed, Herrington said, the exposure would result in increased foot traffic at his store weeks after Summerfest. But without the Summerfest crowds in front of his store this year, he isn’t expecting a surge in business.

But their loss will be other merchants’ gain.

In addition to staging Summerfest activities on Central from Girard to Carlisle, the city is also planning to use about five blocks of Monte Vista and connecting streets between Central and Monte Vista, according to the city’s Cultural Service Department.

Construction workers smooth out the curb close to Abitha’s Apothecary at 3906 Central SE. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The city says it is also working on a plan to help address the East Central businesses that are being left out of this year’s Summerfest, “maybe having a Summerfest shuttle stop at O’Niell’s to get people to this area.”

When completed, ART will transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations. The $119 million project is scheduled for completion by the end of this year.

Bray said that despite all the setbacks, she’s trying to maintain a positive attitude. But it has been tough. Her receipts in April were half what they were in April of last year.

“Our voices aren’t mattering on this,” she said. “We’ve been here 29 years in this spot. I’ve seen everything. This is the worst of it.”

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