Ravenna Township highway project cutting off flow of customers to garden center, other businesses
RAVENNA TOWNSHIP — Margie and Joe Pischera are ready for planting season.
Thousands of flower and vegetable plants fill the 17 greenhouses at their garden center. Trowels, watering cans and fertilizer are arranged on store shelves. Pots and tomato stakes are stacked outside near baskets of pansies.
But customers are in short supply since Ohio 14, just south of the store, closed April 27 for a project to replace two culverts.
The road, which carries 20,000 vehicles past The Garden Spot each day, will not reopen for 45 days — after Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and prime planting season.
“This is so frustrating,” Margie Pischera said the day after the road closed as she gazed at the empty parking lot and silent road. “All my business is in the months the road is closed.”
The garden center, the Food Mart next door and Lintz Collision to the north are victims of a contractor’s prerogative to choose when to start a project and the Ohio Department of Transportation’s out-of-the-way traffic detour on state routes.
“We are very sympathetic but we are in the same seasonal business they are,” said Paula Putnam, spokeswoman for the ODOT district that includes Portage County.
Ohio 14 connects travelers going from Interstate 76 and southern Portage County to the Ohio Turnpike or to Cleveland. Its two lanes in the township widen to four lanes in Streetsboro.
The contractor, Terrace Construction of Cleveland, has a $900,000 contract with ODOT to replace a culvert on Ohio 14 near the turnpike in Streetsboro and one in Ravenna Township. The contract did not specify which culvert to replace first, but both jobs have to be completed by Oct. 31, Putnam said.
The company had planned to do the Streetsboro project first but postponed it because of some technical questions about the job, which has to be completed in 30 days and requires two lanes of Ohio 14 to remain open during construction, said project manager Stewart Lovece.
Because the firm needed to meet with ODOT about the project, it decided to first replace the culvert in Ravenna, an easier job since the road would remain closed to traffic, he said.
Pischera, who has owned the garden center with her husband for 34 years, said she was told by road workers last year that the culvert near her store would be replaced in mid-June. Instead the road closed April 27, about three weeks after she was notified by ODOT.
Traffic is detoured to Ohio 303 and Ohio 44, well to the east of Ohio 14. State routes must be used because of the amount of car and truck traffic, Putnam said.
The Pischeras and Dan Lintz, owner of Lintz Collision, have posted signs by ODOT detour signs that say their businesses are open. They tell customers to take a much shorter detour around the culvert via Dawley and Infirmary roads. Putnam said ODOT doesn’t object to the signs as long as they don’t obscure department signs.
“Kudos to them for taking a proactive measure,” Putnam said of the business owners.
But no sign will replace the thousands of drive-by customers, said Margie Pischera and Jo Judeh, who owns the Food Mart with her husband, Hasan.
“We depend on people who stop by on their way home from work to get a few things,” said Jo Judeh. “This may kill us.”
While the store has grocery and pharmacy items, nearly all of its sales are cigarettes and beer, she said. Food Mart’s only customers during what would be rush hour the morning after the closing were construction workers and a Garden Spot employee.
“We hope we can last until June,” she said.