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DeKalb business owners weigh in weeks into downtown Lincoln Highway construction

How some businesses are reacting a couple weeks into the city’s reconfiguration project of the downtown.

Work continues on the sidewalk of Lincoln Highway near First Street Wednesday June 29, 2022, in DeKalb. Construction is ongoing on Lincoln Highway between First and Fourth Streets.

DeKALB — When Bobbi Hays and her husband, Tim, learned about construction planned for Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, she said they knew it might impact their downtown businesses, Barb City Bagels and Robin’s Nest Bookshoppe.

Hays said she knew the work – expected to take the downtown high strip from four to three lanes and widen the walkways, set for a fall completion – may hurt the couple’s business bottomline. She doesn’t yet know the severity of the profit-margin losses, however.

Hays said she knows the work is temporary and acknowledged the City of DeKalb has offered regular communication with downtown business owners to keep everyone in the loop.

“Once we close out June, I’ll have a better idea because then I’ll be able to compare all of June,” Hays said. “We really got started right about the beginning of June. I’m kind of dreading looking at those numbers, to be honest. … They’re not going to be pretty. It’s going to look ugly.”

Work continues on the south sidewalk of Lincoln Highway near First Street Wednesday June 29, 2022, in DeKalb. Construction is ongoing on Lincoln Highway between First and Fourth Streets.

Barb City Bagels sits near the corner of First Street and Lincoln Highway, on the ground level of Cornerstone DeKalb.

The project will turn a four-lane section of East Lincoln Highway, from First Street to the middle of the block between Third and Fourth streets, into three lanes. The railroad crossing at the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Fourth streets will not be included in the project.

Construction began the day after Memorial Day, and workers have spent the weeks since digging up existing sidewalks in front of downtown businesses to begin the overhaul process. Construction crews and vehicles can be seen daily tending to the area, which has been roped off from pedestrians and motorists. Those wishing to patronize downtown businesses can still access street-side entrances, however. Pedestrians will need to walk around to First and Lincoln or down Second Street to enter inside the roped-off areas.

Hays said she understands the importance of the improvements, though, and how city officials hope the reconfigured downtown strip will encourage more people to spend their time and money in DeKalb once it’s completed.

The project, according to city documents, consists of wider sidewalks, a reconfiguration of the roadway from four lanes to three, historic lighting and better signage.

As the roadwork continues to impact some downtown businesses, city leaders are working to minimize the impact.

Matt Duffy, executive director for the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is working to lend a hand to the city where and when it can.

“We’re always helping with the communication that the city is putting out and shopping local is a continuous focus from the Chamber,” Duffy said.

Work continues in front of City Hall on the south side of Lincoln Highway Wednesday June 29, 2022, in DeKalb. Downtown businesses remain open as the construction continues on Lincoln Highway between First and Fourth Streets.

The construction schedule for the city’s downtown is slated to be a busy one, with a fall completion date eyed for the $1.8 million project.

DeKalb City Engineer Zac Gill said the Lincoln Highway improvements are still on pace to be done in time for the start of DeKalb Corn Fest, which is slated for Aug. 26 through Aug. 28.

Not all downtown businesses have felt the impact from the roadwork, or at least not yet.

Vickie Obermiller, the owner of Kid Stuff, said that when the improvements switch to the north side of Lincoln Highway, she may start to feel more impacted.

“At that point, people will be a little more, I’m assuming, hesitant but it’s just temporary,” Obermiller said.

Obermiller said she hasn’t heard any more complaints than normal from her patrons about trying to find parking.

“We still have our four spots on our side that are still open and available for parking,” Obermiller said.

Hays said the communication from the city regarding the construction has been helpful.

“We get regular communication from the city,” Hays said. “We get regular emails I would say at least once a week, sometimes more than that, giving us updates, letting us know where we’re at, this is what’s happening, this is where we’re at in the project, this is what the next steps going to be. … We really haven’t had any surprises along the way at this point.”