A rocky ride on Easthampton’s Union Street: Businesses struggling with overhaul look forward to end result

Employees with the Ludlow Construction Co. work on a sidewalk during the Union Street construction in Easthampton.

Employees with the Ludlow Construction Co. work on a sidewalk during the Union Street construction in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Employees with the Ludlow Construction Co. work on a sidewalk during the Union Street reconstruction in Easthampton.

Employees with the Ludlow Construction Co. work on a sidewalk during the Union Street reconstruction in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

By ALEXA LEWIS

Staff Writer

Published: 05-10-2024 8:59 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Outside of Small Oven bakery on Union Street, customers walk carefully around puddles, leaving footprints in the muddy strip where the sidewalk had been just days before. Inside, a line still forms at the register, but according to owner Amanda Milazzo business has been noticeably slower since a much-needed street reconstruction project swung into high gear earlier this year.

“There have been times where we’ve had to cut our losses and close for the day because of road closures, and days where we’ve made way too much product,” said Milazzo. “With construction like this, where you’re having massive anxiety about nobody coming in, you just have to remember how great the end result will be for businesses and for the town.”

The end result will be a new look for Union, a heavily used street connecting Main and Cottage streets that is undergoing a $4 million overhaul overseen by the state Department of Transportation, which awarded the project to Ludlow Construction about two years ago.

The project is over half complete, reaching a milestone last week with the repaving of the once-bumpy street. This week, sidewalks and curbs are being removed for reconstruction.

Construction is expected to continue for about another year and a half, with a projected completion date of Oct. 3, 2025. By then, plans will have advanced for other major transportation improvement projects in the city, including large-scale reconstruction work on Main Street and Route 10 over the coming years.

The Union Street project’s improvements include the replacement of underground water, sewer, and gas utilities; a comprehensive reconstruction of the road from Big E’s Supermarket on one end to the intersection of Williston Avenue and Cottage Street on the other; new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pedestrian infrastructure; an upgraded crossing for the Manhan Rail Trail; and new crosswalks.

Of course, the road to these improvements has not been without its challenges for Union Street businesses.

Anup Sangar, who owns Glory of India across from Small Oven, spends the lunch rush focusing on pickup orders to adapt to the lack of in-house customers.

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“Business has been very slow. Nobody can find parking,” said Sangar. “The evenings are pretty normal, because they close construction work for the day. It’s mostly during lunchtime that it gets very quiet.”

On-street parking options have been eliminated while the street and sidewalks undergo reconstruction. Police officers and orange cones direct vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the absence of painted lines and crosswalks.

Just a few doors down the block at Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, a similar slowdown in business has occurred, but more customers have made their way into the store since the street’s repaving.

“When the road was actively being torn up, business was slower because there was no street parking — it’s hard enough to park on this street without construction,” said store manager Maddy Mapel. “We’re thinking it’s not going to slow down as much with the sidewalk construction, but honestly, I’m just a little worried about people being able to get in.”

The sidewalk outside of the coffeehouse had not been removed yet, and pedestrian customers continued to drink and dine regularly even while others were dissuaded by the lack of parking, according to Mapel.

“We have a base of regular customers who walk here on their way to and from work,” she said. “I think some of them will still come in when the sidewalk is gone, and hopefully other customers will keep coming in now that the road is paved.”

All three businesses expressed excitement about the results of the project once it concludes in 2025. In particular, the accommodations for bikers and improved pedestrian infrastructure are expected to bring in more customers.

A weekly forecast of construction impacts on Union Street is posted on the city of Easthampton’s website and in a weekly email newsletter. Updates on the project’s status are provided by MassDOT and can be viewed on the MassDOT website.

Other projects

While the reconstruction of Union Street is well underway, improvements to Main Street and Route 10 are still largely forthcoming. This April, drivers and pedestrians experienced a trial run of the proposed Main Street redesign, which prioritized pedestrian safety. New lines were painted to create new parking spots and potential places for bike lanes.

This effort was part of the ongoing Envision Main Street project, which will involve a rethinking of the street’s parking, speed limits, and pedestrian accessibility for greater connectivity and safety. To aid in this effort, the city hopes to widen Main Street and its sidewalks, and it still accepting feedback on the changes community members would like to see.

On Route 10, proposed changes involve a new roundabout at the former site of Tasty Top to accommodate increased traffic demands as well as new crosswalks for pedestrian accessibility and safety. These two projects are currently still in their design phases, according to the MassDOT website.

Alexa Lewis can be reached at alewis@gazettenet.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @alexamlewis.