Selectmen Look For Signs To Help West Chatham Businesses

By: Alan Pollock

Cars pass through the West Chatham construction zone. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM Acknowledging that road construction along Route 28 is likely to keep some people from visiting local stores and restaurants, selectmen are looking for ways to send the message that West Chatham is open for business during the upcoming roadway project.

The board took action to make it easier for area businesses to obtain temporary signs and is encouraging the business community to come together to make additional requests for help with advertising or other expenses.

Selectmen Chairman Shareen Davis said she visited with several West Chatham merchants to hear their concerns about the roadway project, which is expected to begin shortly and could continue two more years.

“They’re having some difficulties in that area, business-wise,” Davis said. Crews will be installing roundabouts where George Ryder Road and Barn Hill Road meet Route 28 and will be removing the current center turning lane to make room for sidewalks and a multipurpose bike lane. The project has been delayed because a National Grid crew buried gas mains at the wrong depth.

When the town installed sewer mains along Route 28 in 2011, the town allowed the use of temporary business signs and provided changeable signs that allowed motorists to easily find individual businesses during road closures. There was also assistance with an advertising campaign.

“It included some shared media space with the local newspaper,” Davis said. The campaign also included rack cards and other advertising tools.

Speaking at the board’s Jan. 6 meeting, Chatham Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Cavanaugh said some of the same ideas have emerged for this building project.

“We talked about ads in The Chronicle for the duration of the project,” piggybacked with ads on social media designed to feature different West Chatham businesses, Cavanaugh said. There has also been discussion of a slogan to be included in the campaign, “something like ‘All Roads Lead to Chatham,’” she said. The talks are very preliminary, she noted.

Davis said the advertising campaign during the sewer installation cost $150,000, but that project involved full closures of Route 28. There should be less needed this time, since the road is expected to remain open for the duration, “but I’m not sure where we’d get the resources to do this,” she said.

“This group is obviously hurting,” Selectman Cory Metters said. While signs may be helpful, some West Chatham businesspeople are wary that having too many signs might actually scare potential customers away. “It could work against them,” he said. And with regard to help with advertising or other relief, Metters said any assistance provided here will likely be sought from businesses in other parts of town when they are affected by roadway projects. “I want to be conscious of building something that is equitable,” he said.

Some West Chatham merchants have proposed that the town provide some kind of subsidy or grant to offset the business they will likely lose, and Selectman Dean Nicastro said he’s open to such a proposal if a funding source can be identified, and if town counsel recommends a legal way for the town to do so.

“In this case, it could be done through the chamber of commerce,” he said.

Board member Jeffrey Dykens said West Chatham business owners should come together to decide what assistance is most needed. He favored allowing temporary signs and waiving the fees for them for affected businesses, and said he likes the large illuminated changeable-letter highway signs used by Harwich during the road closures in East Harwich. Something similar should be used for West Chatham, Dykens said.

“‘West Chatham Open For Business.’ Keep it simple,” he said. The town has four such signs of its own which could be used for this purpose, staff said.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said there’s no money in the current budget for this kind of advertising, but if an article is included in the May annual town meeting and the funding source is free cash, money could be made available immediately if approved. Otherwise, funds would be unavailable until the new fiscal year starts in July.

Selectmen voted unanimously to waive the fees for temporary sign permits for affected businesses, and to allow temporary off-premises signs no larger than three square feet in size during the construction seasons. The board also encouraged the chamber and West Chatham businesses to develop a proposal for additional assistance to be brought to the annual town meeting for consideration.