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Merchants Decry a Road Less Traveled : Business: Part of Huntington Drive has been closed for weeks during installation of a storm drain. Shopkeepers say they're losing money.


MONROVIA — The mood around Foothill Grand Slam on Huntington Drive has been less than festive since it opened six weeks ago--thanks to a flood control project whose construction has blocked off the street and diverted potential customers, its owners say.

The indoor baseball batting cage and sports shop opened Jan. 17, four days after the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works shut down the busy thoroughfare between California and Shamrock avenues to install a new storm drain.

Steve Carreon, co-owner and general manager of Grand Slam, was one of several area merchants who said the closure--expected to last until the end of this month--is hurting revenues because their businesses depend on drive-by traffic.

Carreon said he has invested $250,000 in his business, but it is only averaging $344 a day in revenue, half of what the other Grand Slam franchise in Pasadena makes.

It is normal for shopkeepers to lose business during such a project, said Jess Sanchez, supervisor of the county's Construction Division.

"We try to help out as much as we can," he said. "We put up signs because we don't want to see anyone go belly up."

Signs for Foothill Grand Slam, Santa Anita Firing Range and Amerigon Inc., an engineering corporation, were posted at California Avenue. But some eastbound motorists have been reluctant to drive around the orange and white street barricades to enter the stores' driveways via an opening on the westbound side, merchants say.

"People who come at night say it took them 20 minutes to try and find the entrance, and they end up driving on the wrong side of the road, " Carreon said. "It's upsetting."

Robert Sandwick, Monrovia's director of public works, said the county's plans originally called for closing the westbound lanes of Huntington Drive, leaving the eastbound side open for traffic. Construction crews, however, decided to close both sides of the street to expedite work, Sanchez said.

Last September, county inspectors put informational flyers in mailboxes and on doors of properties that might be affected by the project, Sanchez said. Four days before work began, officials met with property owners to inform them of the street closure, he said.

Property owners were not pleased.

"The (few) days' notice was not appreciated," said Jess Jimenez, manager of human resources for Kabi Pharmacia, which makes implant lenses for cataract surgery. "It was not enough time to get people ready for the construction."

Most firms and vendors east of Shamrock said they were not aware of the project until they saw the barricades and heard heavy equipment rumbling by.

"The county never talked to me about the project," said Sameer Sarker, manager of a Church's Fried Chicken restaurant.

Sales have dropped 30% a week, the first time in 2 1/2 years, and he has been forced to decrease employees' work hours, Sarker said.

"Business is terrible," said Ken Campbell, owner of Ken's O.K. Tire in the Monrovia Auto Center. "I get at least six calls a day from people who say, 'I know where you are, but I can't get through.' "

Ralph Garcia, manager of B&B Chevron Food Mart, at Mountain Avenue and Huntington Drive, said business is off by 20% because motorists detour when they see the posted "road closed ahead" signs.

Employees of a Taco Bell started a free delivery service to boost sales, a spokesman said.

The merchants are concerned that the project, which was scheduled to be completed in six weeks, will take months, and decrease sales even more.

Sanchez said contractors and their crews are more than two weeks behind schedule because of the recent heavy rains.

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