Mechanic Street construction project empties parking lot at ice cream stand
Six-year-old Bohdi Agterberg's got the right idea. After morning swim lessons, he had a craving for a black raspberry and vanilla soft-serve cone at Dairy Twirl. So he and his mom rode their bikes to the Mechanic Street landmark.
While other potential ice cream commuters were stuck waiting for their turn to make it through the gauntlet of excavators, sewer lines, dust devils and a one-lane roadway, Sarah Riley and her son pedaled in to become one of Dairy Twirl's smattering of customers during the noon hour Tuesday.
"You know the bike is the way to go," Sarah said. "We got right through it."
Unfortunately for ice-cream lovers and the people who own and scoop cones at Dairy Twirl, a lot of customers can't get through in their cars and trucks while construction goes on during the workday. (Evening is not a problem, after the road crews have left.) That's meant a significant decline in business, especially during the usually popular lunch hour.
"It's really our regulars that stop for lunch" who stay away, said Brent Murray, who runs the shop along with his wife, Cinnamon. "They say 'We can't tell how long it's going to take to get through the traffic,' so they don't know if they can make it during the time they've got for lunch."
After waiting my turn in traffic on Mechanic Street, I pulled into the Dairy Twirl parking lot around 11:15 a.m. and stayed until 1 p.m. The normally bustling lot and service windows were empty during much of that time.
Molly Pelletier is a recent graduate of Lebanon High heading to Colby Sawyer College next fall to study nursing. Like generations of students before her, she had hopes that a full tip jar would help her pay tuition and cover other expenses. So far, not so full.
"During the day, it's really slow," she said around 11:30 a.m., peering out at the empty lot. "Right now I've had only three customers."
Traditionally, a line starts forming at noon as customers consider their options: hard serve, soft serve, maybe a sundae for a special treat. At noon Tuesday, the sun was out, the air was warm. This is what the Dairy Twirl window looked like:
Murray said that business is down about 20 percent overall, mostly due to the slowdown during the daytime construction period. The work has hit other stores as well. Steve's Pet Shoppe is moving to the site of the Lebanon Brew Shop after seeing business sharply decline, reports John Lippman in the Valley News.
City officials have said the Mechanic Street work should wrap up in July. The broader $69 million project will affect 16 streets and is designed to stem the flow of dirty water into the Mascoma River.
"I know the work has to be done. It's certainly an inconvenience," says Murray. "They're certainly doing their best to keep traffic moving. It looks like it's going to be a long haul and we're just going to have to ride it out."
Whatever the roadwork, some customers will not be denied. Lisa Elder, a mother of two and school secretary from Plainfield, stopped by for a butter crunch cone on her way to an appointment.
"I go out of my way to do ice cream," she says while polishing off the cone in the car. "I"m not normal in that sense."
Molly Pelletier said her college fund tip jar is running on empty due to roadwork keeping customers away from Dairy Twirl.