Jeffers Garden businesses glad bridge closure is over

Businesses in Jeffers Garden, just to the west of the old Lewis and Clark Bridge, suffered from the bridge's closure this summer. The area is an increasingly important commercial zone near the established concentration of business in Astoria.

JEFFERS GARDEN — Commuters weren’t the only ones seeing the benefits of a reopened Lewis and Clark River Bridge last month. 

Businesses in Jeffers Garden, a census-designated place in Clatsop county, saw significant drops in revenue after the bridge closed last year — in some cases six-figure losses. Since the roadway opened again in September, some of that lost traffic has started returning, albeit slowly. 

“At first it was like living on a dead-end road,” said Klyde Thompson, owner of Del’s OK Tire Factory. “If you don’t have the traffic obviously you’re not going to get the business.”

Around 40 percent of business coming to Graf’s Automotive comes across the Lewis and Clark River Bridge, said owner Nicholas Graf. For him the closure meant losing quick, profitable jobs to competitors on the Warrenton side of the river. 

Graf saw his revenue drop by roughly 20 percent, and he wasn’t alone. Thompson estimated that during the nine months the bridge was closed he lost upward of $100,000 and Betty Chilson, owner of the Jeffers Gardens Inn said she lost half her normal business during the closure.

With the bridge closed, customers coming from areas to the west of Jeffers Garden were forced to drive miles out of their way to reach businesses in the area, leaving business owners with the task of enticing customers to bypass closer alternatives in favor of Jeffers Garden establishments. 

From advertising to relying on word of mouth, efforts to draw customers to the area during the bridge closure varied. Thompson gave discounts and other incentives to offset the inconvenience of the longer drive for customers. Graf gave some discounts but, with the drop in revenue, advertising was out of the question. Chilson saw other businesses spend money on advertising with little return, and opted not to run any promotions, she said.  

“We put extra discounts out there and advertised more, but what can you do?” Thompson said.

 Closed for renovation

The Lewis and Clark River bridge closed early December 2014 for repairs that included updating bridge supports and replacing the west approach to the bridge, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation website.

Construction on the Lewis and Clark River bridge was part of the same project that included renovations to the Old Youngs Bay bridge, said Lou Torres, a department spokesman. The amount of traffic on the Old Youngs Bay bridge, however, made it unfeasible to close it completely. The extent of restoration needed for the nearly 90-year-old Lewis and Clark River bridge, on the other hand, made closing down completely during construction a necessary step, he said. 

The department made efforts to reach out to business owners and inform them of both the closure and the traffic impacts it would have, Torres said. That included holding open houses to reach business owners and emphasizing to visitors that the businesses would remain open during the closure.

“There’s always going to be some impact and we understand that. What we tried to do was minimize those impacts as much as we could,” Torres said. 

Not everyone was happy with the department’s efforts, however. 

One of the most frustrating parts of the closure wasn’t the loss of business, Graf said, but the lack of communication he saw from the department of transportation. He only heard of the meeting for business owners the day after it took place, he said. 

With the bridge now open again, all three business owners said they’ve seen some of the business they lost during the closure come back, but it’s yet to ramp back up to pre-closure levels. 

Thompson ran a small promotion to coincide with the bridge opening, and has seen enough customers returning to keep his business busy over the past few weeks, he said.

Jeffers Gardens Inn has seen customers start to come back, but not as many as Chilson expected, she said. 

It’s a similarly mixed bag as to whether or not business owners expect to see their revenues rebound now that the bridge is open again. Graf is optimistic, and expects to see his customers return in time, he said. Chilson, however, is cautious — she’s not making any declarations about the future just yet.

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