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Opp merchants share concerns

Downtown Opp merchants are pleased with the recent improvements to the appearance of downtown, but are concerned about parking and a recommendation that they extend their hours.

At Monday’s public hearing on downtown revitalization, Scott Farmer of the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning Commission presented a tentative plan for the direction of the project now that new sidewalks have been completed. As part of the plan, he suggested the downtown merchants expand business hours at least one or two days a week.

Merchants interviewed this week aren’t sure whether or not they’ll heed his recommendation.

“I don’t know what I would do, simply because I don’t know if I can expand my hours, but I think that it should be one day. It would be better for the business. Maybe we could be open later on Thursday nights,” said Eileen Snap, owner of Grandma’s Attic and Em’s.

Merle Norman storeowner Stacy Sullivan said she would go along with extended hours if other merchants complied.

“It’s not a big deal to me. My store is usually open all the time except Monday,” she said. “I will do anything to increase sales. That is what we are here for.”

Henry Hornsby of Covington Jewelers agreed.

“I’m all for anything that might increase our traffic,” he said. “As long as it’s a group effort, I don’t see why not.”

But, others weren’t so sure about the plan.

“I’m not changing my hours,” Young’s Florist owner Rebecca Edgar said. “We’re open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.”

Merchants are concerned about parking.

Right now, some people park diagonally and others park parallel – it just depends on who gets there first.

“I won’t be upset about the parking if they make it a one-way (street),” Edgar said. “If one person parks too close to the median in the parallel parking then they can’t get out.”

Snap said she, too, hopes the city decides which way the customers should park.

As for Sullivan, she said she would do whatever the city asks in terms of parking.

“I liked one side angled and one side parallel,” she said. “But, it’s not really a problem for me because I have a back entrance and my customers can still get to me.”

Merchants are also upset that since the construction, which began in September 2009, was going on during Christmas, they experienced sales declines in an already harsh economic time.

“I like everything they are doing and I think it is fine, but I wish they would have waited until after the Christmas holidays. I depend on those sales for the spring, but they are doing a good job,” Snap said. “They have even cleaned my windows.”

Hornsby agreed.

“I like what they are doing, although I can’t say much for their timing,” he said. “It hurt my sales during Christmas and Valentines.”

Sullivan said she too experienced a drop in sales, but said it is just part of it when you have construction.

All in all, merchants are pleased with the improvements.

“I think they improvements are great. It looks really nice,” Edgar said.

Opp Mayor H.D. Edgar said he knows the construction on East Covington Avenue has taken a long time, with the weather. But, said he appreciates the merchants being patient in the process.

“The merchants have been really patient,” he said. “We can’t control the weather, but we are trying to get it done as quickly as possible.”