FARMINGTON – Businesses on Main Street in downtown Farmington were hit with a double-whammy this year: First, a section of Main Street closed to vehicle traffic for major infrastructure improvements, and then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
But several owners say they experienced an uptick in business during the Main Street construction but a lingering downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.
Phase 1 of the city’s Complete Streets Project closed Main Street from Court Avenue to Orchard Avenue, from early January until late last week. Sidewalk access remained available to pedestrians who wanted to access businesses.
“A lot of the public were upset. But business owners had been working with the city for the year prior and knew it was coming,” said Tara Taylor, owner and baker at the Studio Bake Shoppe, located inside Artifacts Gallery.
Taylor said there was a lot of attention on downtown when the January street closures were announced. But she was surprised that January and February – the first two months of the construction – saw more profits than the same time periods in previous years. Taylor attributed the increase in business to the city’s advertisements encouraging people to support the downtown businesses.
Jamie Church, president of the Farmington Chamber of Commerce, said “never in a million years” could anyone have predicted a pandemic would hit while street construction was in progress.
“It certainly was a perfect storm, with the construction and the COVID,” she said.
She said while some businesses like Three Rivers Brewery have decided to close until August, others are working to maintain business during the pandemic.
Monica Shultz, owner of the Chile Pod restaurant, also said her business saw an overall increase during those first two months before the coronavirus hit.
“We were worried it would affect us,” Shultz said of the construction. “We had a 5% increase in sales just because of the promotion from the city. It was an above-normal growth increase for us.”
She added they were lucky enough to have a back entrance and a back parking lot for customers to access.
Shultz and Taylor both said the city has been a helpful resource for the small businesses on Main Street.
The city provided weekly meetings with instructors to teach business owners how to increase their online presence, how to expand their advertising, how to manage finances and how to connect with the public by social media when they could not interact face-to-face, Taylor said.
“They’ve been very open and helpful throughout the process,” she said.
When the coronavirus hit northern New Mexico and businesses faced increased closures, Taylor said she continued to use those skills during the months of construction, but now with a focus on maintaining her customer base during the pandemic.
She used her social media account to begin posting what baked good she was making each week, accepting orders and allowing people to pick them up on Saturdays.
Shultz said she attended a few of the informational classes, and already had a strong Facebook presence in the community but started an Instagram account for her business last year.
“The city really put a lot of information out there and a lot of classes,” she said.
Shultz said the Chile Pod had decided to shut down when the public health restrictions were put in place and the state’s stay-at-home order went into affect in early March.
“We didn’t have to close but we thought if we all adhered, it would help to flatten the curve,” she said.
But when it became apparent the virus was not going away anytime soon, the Chile Pod reopened after three weeks with curbside pickup and delivery via Grubhub.
Shultz said while she understands the public health importance and wants to do her part to keep everyone safe, it’s been hard to watch what the closures are doing to her business, which opened in 2016. She estimates her sales have dipped to 50% less than what they were last year.
“We were feeling confident,” she said. “We had continual growth since we opened. But the way this whole thing went down, it just took the ground out from under us.”
Both Taylor and Shultz are now faced with closing indoor dining in accordance with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s recent public health order requiring businesses to close indoor dining, which went into effect Monday.
Taylor said for all of the uncertainty the new public health announcements have caused, she’s almost glad the pandemic hit during construction.
“If you dealt with construction all year, and then got hit by COVID after... . At least it’s all happened at once,” she said. “But we keep talking about having a block party with the whole new street when all this is over.”