Nathan Mervin fixed boats in his backyard for years before he opened Mervin Marine and Power Sports on West Victoria Street in 2016.
The downtown location was “awesome,” he said, and his business quickly grew.
Today, his shop is in the middle of a construction zone.
The $13-million West Victoria Street reconstruction project began last month, resulting in Mervin holding off on hiring staff for the season and searching for alternative commercial space, trying to move.
Getting boats in and out of the area has been a pain, he said, and walk-in business has taken a hit.
“This is just the beginning,” Mervin told KTW.
“They’re just getting started on this. I think it’ll be more. They say two years. That’s why I want to get out. It’s probably going to be longer than that.”
After two weeks of construction, at least two businesses along the thoroughfare want to move — the other asked to remain anonymous fearing repercussions from a landlord — and others are feeling impacts on their bottom lines.
Brad McKenzie, who owns Wallace Upholstery and Foam as well as the strip mall in which it and several other businesses are located along West Victoria Street, said business for him and tenants has slowed.
He pointed to traffic backed up from the Yellowhead Highway to the Red Bridge as proof people are avoiding the area.
McKenzie said he hopes business picks back up.
“Because if they [business tenants] can’t make their payments, they’re going to move out,” he said.
“There goes that. Then, we will never be able to lease it out for the two years construction is going on. We already had these guys move out, just at the end of the month. There used to be a mattress store right next to us. They moved out. We’re trying to lease it but I don’t think — nobody’s going to jump down in here any time.”
McKenzie’s tenant, Jeff Cameron, owner of JCRacing Tire and Auto Repair, said he is also worried and hopes the project is completed as soon as possible.
“Why are they only working bankers’ hours on the road?” Cameron said.
“They should be working around the clock to get it done and they should be getting it done at night, when they’re not interfering with the traffic. Seven to seven is their hours, which is ridiculous. I’m pretty sure anybody like Vancouver, any city, would have them going around the clock. Construction lights out and getting it done.”
City of Kamloops civic operations director Jen Fretz said the city adjusted traffic patterns downtown, which should alleviate congestion, improve flow and bring people back to the area.
Work is done from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., depending on the day, though Fretz said that might change.
Additionally, the city and contractor Extreme Excavating have staff who are working with businesses, and bright orange signs were placed on either side of the street reminding residents: “Businesses are open during construction and appreciate your continued business.”
Fretz said the situation is difficult.
“Unfortunately, construction is never easy,” she said, noting the city and contractor are working to get the project done as quickly as possible but complications include unknowns underground.
Not everyone is avoiding the area. Spoke ’N Motion customer Tom Rankin altered the time in which he would usually visit the bike shop, avoiding what he called the city’s “rush minute” in the morning, evening and at lunchtime.
Rankin said he would keep coming back, even if he didn’t have the extra time afforded to retirees.
“I’d still come here because they are a really good retailer,” he said. “Loyalty would override inconvenience.”
Businesses along West Victoria generally understand need for the project, which is driven by the need to replace aging infrastructure underground, but nonetheless are bearing the brunt of the project’s weight.
One business owner appeared frustrated when asked about the project but refused to speak with KTW, on account of having nothing good to say.
Polar Battery branch manager Kelly Ashley called the first couple weeks of construction in front of his shop “overwhelming” but said communication with Extreme Excavating has been working well to get customers in and out of the shop.
Construction in front of Polar Battery is expected to wrap up in July as part of phase one and Ashely is pleased with the project’s staged approach.
Businesses on the opposite end of the project have so far reported minimal impacts to KTW.
Mervin’s shop, meanwhile, is situated in the middle of the first and second phases of construction. He anticipates further impacts and will continue to search the commercial listings but may be stuck trying to navigate boats through a construction zone this summer.
“Commercial space is really scarce right now,” he said.
“Especially the space I need. Basically, when one pops up, we’ve been trying, but it keeps getting scooped up. There’s nothing.”