Valentina Svetliskaia, owner of Salon Valentina Nails in the Sunnyland Plaza on Route 206, pulls out her 2011 appointment book and opens it to Dec. 13, 2011.
"See? It's full all day," she said. She shows her book for today, which lists a half-dozen appointments. "I have never before Christmas have so little business."
The drop in appointments and sales for Valentina—and her neighbors in the Sunnyland Plaza—is caused by the work in front of the center repairing the leaking gas pipeline. The work is blocking the soundbound lane in front of the strip mall, and detouring traffic which normally keeps a steady flow of customers coming in.
But it's hard to tell that the entrance to the plaza is open, and truth be told, it's easier than ever to shop at the stores on the west side of 206—if you're driving from the south. There's no oncoming traffic to bar a left turn into the parking lots, and thanks to Ab Fab Coiffure's co-owner Spica Usher, who asked the workers to park their trucks behind the center, there's also plenty of parking space.
"They're great guys," Usher said. "I can't imagine they could do any more, they're working so hard."
And even though there's a wall of trucks, backhoes and utility trailers between her shop and potential customers on 206, Usher says she prefers "they find the leak and fix it."
But it is biting into business—Usher said her customers have been keeping their appointments, as have the music students next door at Big Bang Music, but at this time of the year, the shops hope for gift certificate and product sales.
"It's hurting my business," Craig Buchman, owner of Big Bang Music, said. The store usually does much of its holiday sales in the days and week or two before Christmas—which is just about when the pipeline work is projected to be done.
"We're doing holiday sales, stuff is marked down and we're fully stocked," Buchman said, but customers have been scared off.
"You know how people are in a panic—they won't go there," Valentina said. "They hear there's a gas leak and they won't go."
Even the normally-packed Just Subs is slicing less meat and serving fewer sandwiches since the work started.
The pipeline is also only the latest in a string of challenges the business owners have been confronted with—they were shut down for a week without power after Hurricane Sandy, and on Saturday, a live power wire fell near the entrance. The entrance was blocked as the line was repaired—and rumors around the center are circulating that the power line caused the pipeline to crack by contacting a vent pipe.
"Can you imagine what that could have done?" Buchman said.
Sheena Wang, at the Carvel ice cream shop, said she's had some customers call to ask if the store is open, but she said people seem to find it difficult to get to the store, not knowing how easy it is to get to from the northbound lanes.
"Some have come in—they open the door and say, 'Are you open,'" she said. "I tell them 'yes, come in.'"
But she says it's not as many as she would usually see, even in the colder days of December.