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‘We’ve been waiting for a long time’

No matter which Andalusia business owner one asks, they all give the same answer — they’re excited about the planned improvements to River Falls Street.

Ofelia Quesada, owner of Ofelia’s Italian Restaurant, said she and other business owners have been “waiting a long time” for the improvements. She has owned the business since 2004.

“I hope they do a great job and they do it soon,” she said. “I hope it’s as good as East Three Notch Street, or even better.”

In June, the Andalusia City Council approved seeking funding to improve the city street. Already, the Alabama Department of Transportation has agreed to fund $1.5 million of the $4 million project.

Planned improvements along the street include improving water and sewerage lines, adding storm water drainage, improving curbs and gutters, adding lighting and landscaping and refurbishing sidewalks.

Deborah Brooks, owner of Sugar Bottom Emporium, said she would be happy just to “see the potholes get filled.” Her business has been open for nearly five years.

“If they just paved the roads and did nothing else, I’d be happy,” she said.

Quesada said she started a petition about three years ago, in which she stated the need for roadwork on the street, and several business owners along River Falls Street signed the petition.

“We definitely need some lights,” she said. “Right now, people don’t come down at night because there’s no lighting. It will also be good to get some nice sidewalks.”

Quesada added that she plans to keep her business on River Falls Street, and will soon expand the restaurant into her mother’s existing bridal shop, which is located in half of the building.

“I had thought about moving at one point, but my mother is going to retire,” she said. “She’s leaving me the whole house, and we’ll remodel it and make the restaurant take up that space now.”

Merchants said they are a little worried that roadwork or road closures could impact their businesses, but realize it is a necessary consequence of the improvements.

“It’s like pulling a thorn out of your hand,” said Wayne Caylor, co-owner of Pack-N-Ship, which opened in 2005. “It might hurt for a while, but in the long run it’ll be a great thing. I know that some of the businesses on (East) Three Notch were hurting for a bit when that road work was going on, but now I’m sure they’d all say it was worth it.”

Caylor added that the improvements to infrastructure could help give the entire River Falls Street business district a boost.

“If you walk down this street, you see a lot of empty buildings that used to have businesses,” he said. “Hopefully this road work will pay dividends and bring some business back here.”

Quesada said she hopes the city does not close River Falls Street completely at any point during the project.

“I just hope they leave some space for cars to still come in,” she said. “That worries me, because with no cars, I’d have no business.”

Brooks, meanwhile, said she would have no qualms if she had to temporarily close her business because of any roadwork.

“It wouldn’t make me cry,” she laughed. “I’m actually hoping for a vacation.”