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Rocky Road : Renovation: Merchants along Colorado Boulevard say that congestion casued by street repaving has hurt business. County officials contend the project is on schedule.


WEST VALLEY — For store owners along a five-block stretch of Colorado Boulevard between Pasadena and Arcadia, watching the street being repaved has been like watching moss grow on a rock.

Six weeks ago, work crews for general contractor Mobassaly Engineering tore away the old pavement in the curbside lanes. Then, once a day, the workers showed up to spray the exposed dirt with water but did little else, the merchants say.

Last week, road workers finally laid some new asphalt. And now they are starting on the middle lanes, hacking away with a cutting machine at the old pavement in what is usually a four-lane street.

Meanwhile, traffic creeps along at a snail's pace on the thoroughfare, which has been reduced to two lanes. And business in the stores, particularly of the drop-in kind, has gone south--or any other direction where customers can get in and out without sitting in traffic for 20 minutes, the merchants say. The drop-off in business volume is as much as 60%, some estimate.

"At lunchtime, we're down to three or four tables," says a visibly anguished Buck Lee, owner of the Mandarin Fisherman, a seven-year-old Chinese seafood restaurant. "People who have only one hour or 45 minutes to eat--they go someplace else."

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works said that the $545,000 repaving job is on schedule.

"These jobs are never convenient for anyone," said spokeswoman Donna Guyovich. "Whether it's a commercial or residential area, there's going to be a certain amount of disruption."

Irwindale-based Mobassaly Engineering, whose officials did not respond to telephone messages by The Times this week, has contracted with the Department of Public Works to repave the unincorporated stretch of Colorado, from Sycamore Avenue to Michillinda Avenue, by Sept. 15, Guyovich said.

"In fact, the contractor is a little ahead of schedule," Guyovich said.

Tell that to Michael Prometheus, owner of Michael's Unocal service station at Colorado Boulevard and Michillinda Avenue. "I'm going nuts," he said. "I'm barely making my bills."

Before workers paved the lane next to his gas station last Friday, Prometheus said, there had been no work in front of his station since the old pavement was ripped up in early June.

"They were here for one or two days, and then"--making washing motions with his hands--"that's it."

Now, Prometheus' workers have given up trying to hose down the dirt that cars track onto his lot.

"It stays filthy, no matter what you try to do," Prometheus said.

Guyovich said the merchants had been informed ahead of time what to expect. "This should not be a surprise to the merchants," she said.

The project is too small to complete in sections, as some merchants suggested, she added.

"On bigger projects, you go in and do one section at a time," Guyovich said. "But here, you're only working with a few blocks on either side of Rosemead Boulevard."

Most of the Colorado Boulevard store owners say they have lost anywhere from 30% to 60% of their business in the past month and a half.

"We just did the numbers," said Wally Olney, manager of Dekarr Music Store, which sells and rents musical instruments. "We're down 60%."

As with other businesses, the problem is one of inconvenience, Olney said. "For a couple of weeks there, our parking lot was inaccessible, and that was it," he said. "Musical instruments are a luxury. The customers don't need them that bad. Or else they go someplace else."

Meanwhile, Lee says he has already laid off three of his 10 restaurant employees, and he worries about his restaurant surviving until September.

"This is killing the business," he said. "Who wants to come here?"

"We depend a lot on front parking," said Jose Moreno, manager of Rancho Gardens Florists.

To park in front of his store these days, motorists must go through a narrow opening in the barricades, cross a two-inch high curb and park in the dirt next the curb.

"We get no walk-in customers anymore," said Moreno.

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