SARATOGA SPRINGS – The New York State Department of Transportation began road work in March on a project that would address, among other things, an accident-prone area on Ballston Avenue at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and South Street as part of a locally-administered federal aid project. Accidents were averaging once a month for nearly four years, according to one study, and there was one fatality.
Even necessary construction has its consequences, and some local businesses who initially welcomed the increased safety for their potential customers are wondering if notification and other processes could have better prepared them for the unexpected loss in business.
“One thing that would have helped us enormously,” said Giancarlo Balestra, owner of Limoncello Ristorante, “is if we would have been notified in advance of the magnitude of the project and how significant it was going to affect us for three long months. Instead we were told, after the road work had already started, quite coldly that no one involved in the project felt we should have been notified because they all agreed we would not be affected at all. Our business is down over 35 percent.”
Joe Wood, owner of Woody’s Barber Shop at 219 Broadway, said his business is down 70 percent. “My business is all walk-ins, not appointments,” Wood said. “The traffic is so bad that people don’t bother to stop. This is supposed to be my busy season. Been in business for four years, and have never had a spring this bad.”
Nancy Balestra said she wished someone had just given them a call or sent a short note warning that businesses could be affected. They did not know there had been discussions in news reports and public hearings. “If we understood how much impending hardship was coming, we could have prepared. There must be a better way to determine not just whether a business will be impacted, but by how much.”
The restaurant had made a new hire and other expenditures that they would not have made if they had known how much business would be down. The Balestras said businesses with proper notice could prepare by seeking out temporary financing options, downsizing, holding off on new hires, minimizing expenditures, and altering marketing plans.
“The city gave me zero notice,” said Wood. “I haven’t bothered to call them because I don’t think they really care about us small businesses. I think they do what’s best for the city and tourism, not us.”
The responsibility for the notification process was primarily with the state, but the City of Saratoga Springs did hold public hearings on the matter and some businesses did receive a notice, but not all.
“We don’t say don’t do the project,” said Giancarlo Balestra. “We just say help us. Someone really needs to do something to change the process of notification of road closures during these types of long term road projects so that businesses don’t get damaged so severely. We understand they need to get the work done but it shouldn’t have to involve ruining local businesses and the lives of the people working there. “
The construction is scheduled to be complete by the end of the month. A call to Commissioner of Public Works Anthony "Skip" Scirocco for a comment was not returned.
In the print version, the fifth paragraph mistakenly began: Nancy Balestra said she wished someone had just given them a call or sent a short note warning that businesses could be affected more than what was discussed in all the news reports and public hearings. That was an author’s error. The corrected paragraph is above.