Damon Road commerce slows as railroad crossing upgraded

Last modified: Monday, September 08, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Commerce slowed Saturday on Damon Road as some businesses never opened at all or closed early because a portion of the street was closed while improvements were made to a railroad crossing.

Sunny Patel, owner of Mock’s Convenience Store, 100 Damon Road, stood behind the counter early Saturday afternoon. His store was empty.

“Everybody got in their mind that Damon Road is closed,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got no customers.” Normally, the weekend is a busy time for the shops along the stretch of road that connects Route 9 to King Street, but business owners said confusion brought on by signs announcing the work on Damon Road discouraged customers.

Several electronic signs in the city initially read “Damon Road closed” on one screen, then flipped to a second screen that said “Aug. 9-10.” After hearing concerns from local businesses, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation modified seven message boards, including a sign near the railroad crossing at Damon and Industrial Drive to read “No thru traffic Rd Clsd at RR Xing Aug 9th & 10th.”

Just the section of Damon Road from the King Street intersection to Industrial Drive was scheduled to be closed from 7 a.m. Saturday to 7 p.m. Sunday.

But business owners Saturday said it seemed people had already made plans to avoid the road entirely.

Patel said that on a nice weekend, he would usually get a lot of customers traveling to or from Look Park on Damon Road, and would have sales of some $1,800 to $2,000 on each day. Patel said he opened at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and by around 2 p.m. had seen just a few customers and made about $60. Patel said planned to close if no one came in within the next hour, because it would not be worth spending money for electricity to remain open until his normal Saturday closing time of 11 p.m.

When a reporter returned to the store after an hour, the lights were turned off.

Nearby, workers from Pan Am Railways used heavy equipment to upgrade the railroad crossing in preparation for high-speed rail later this year.

Meanwhile, some businesses did not open at all Saturday in anticipation of the drop in customers. Kristy’s Nails at 137C Damon Road and Best Heads in Town at 141C Damon Road, which are shops in a strip mall, were both closed all day Saturday.

Around 3 p.m. Saturday, Shari Bezio, a manager at Webster’s Fish Hook restaurant at 391 Damon Road, said it served only about half the usual number of customers, and several staff members had been sent home. Still, Bezio said she planned to keep the restaurant open for its normal hours both Saturday and Sunday.

Outside the business and by the cash register were signs that read, “We will be open Saturday and Sunday,” but Bezio said she did not think that made much of a difference because people mistakenly thought Damon Road would be closed entirely.

“There’s not really much we can do,” she said. “People just made plans around it.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.