Before and during construction, merchants on either side of the Intracoastal Waterway fretted about how the Ocean Avenue bridge closing would hurt their businesses. Now that the new span has opened, some confess it wasn’t so bad, after all. But others found their revenues dipped significantly.
Here’s a sampling of comments from merchants.
— Jane Smith
Old Key Lime House
Built in 1889, the Old Key Lime House bills itself as the oldest waterfront restaurant in Florida. Owner Wayne Cordero had predicted his business would fall by 20 percent to 25 percent when the Ocean Avenue Bridge closed. But he was surprised when it actually increased by a few percentage points, he said.
His eatery is a destination restaurant for locals and out-of-towners who want a waterfront view while eating. “It gives you the Keys experience without having to leave town,” Cordero said.
Parking is a perennial problem along Ocean Avenue. Cordero solved his restaurant’s parking issues by buying nearby houses, knocking them down and paving the land.
He thinks the town should provide more parking for Ocean Avenue restaurants and merchants. But the town doesn’t necessarily agree.
The Town Council dipped into reserves to buy the 1-acre piece of land on the north side of Ocean Boulevard. The council bought it because waterfront property is not often for sale (and the reduced price, thanks to the sagging economy, made it especially attractive). They decided to put a park there, said Dave Thatcher, the town’s development services director.
“About 30 parking spaces will be available for use in the evening after the park closes,” he said. “Others wanted more parking. But did you ever hear the song [lyrics], ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’?”
Owner Dak Kerprich believes in organic and local ingredients for his handmade pizzas.
He lost some business from the conversion this year of the Ritz-Carlton resort on the east side of the bridge to Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, but overall his sales are not down. “We have clientele from West Palm Beach, Wellington and Miami who drive to eat here,” he said.
His menu changes daily, he allows deletions only for allergy reasons and he accepts only cash. There is an ATM nearby.
It’s open Tuesday through Saturday, from “5:30ish until the dough runs out.”
Shades of Time
Owner Alan B. Ross doesn’t mince words.
For his sunglass shop, the Ocean Avenue Bridge closing has “been a bloody disaster. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. They left the merchants to their own devices,” he said.
The Lantana police were the goodwill ambassadors who checked on him often, Ross said.
He thinks that when officials plan for a bridge replacement, they should do similar planning for merchants.
Take out ads, place road signs and hold events are among his ideas.
“The town did take the initiative and arranged a meeting with the (Greater) Lantana Chamber of Commerce and the business community,” Thatcher said, “but nothing was ever done.”
At the time, the chamber was going through a management change. Executive Director Lynn Smith, who started in January 2012, said as far as she knew her group was never asked to help.
Shades of Time display cases nearly sparkle. Ross quips, “I’ve had a lot of time to clean them.”
Palm Beach Bakery and Cafe
The small bakery and cafe caters to the local Finnish community.
“My clients are mainly Finns who live on this (west) side of the water,” said owner Jouko Vaskivuo. His business was not affected much by the bridge closing.
The cafe also serves as a meeting place with its offerings of open-faced sandwiches of hard-boiled egg and anchovies and Scandinavian chocolates and sweets.
“I can’t wait,” Vaskivuo said about the bridge opening. He kept his business open during the celebration, offering coffee and pastries. “Last time, when they closed the bridge, there was no place to get coffee.”
Jeannie’s Ocean Boutique
On the east side of the bridge in Plaza del Mar in Manalapan, Jeannie Drummond opened her ladies’ fashion boutique a few months before the bridge closed.
Her business was down so much she had to let her part-time sales staff go and run the shop on her own.
But with the bridge opening, she now has a full-time salesperson and one part-timer, in addition to herself.
“We are over the moon about it,” she said about the bridge opening.
Evelyn & Arthur
Store manager Maryann Diller said her customers complained all the time about the bridge closing.
“It was a major inconvenience for customers to get here,” said Diller, who runs the Plaza del Mar store.
To counter that, the store stayed open later or opened earlier.
“We did whatever it would take to keep the customer satisfied,” she said. The store sells women’s resort wear for the Florida lifestyle.
“We have a great rapport with customers,” she said, so the store did not lose any business.