Portland road work leaves business on the brink

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PORTLAND — Donatelli’s Variety at 1223 Washington Ave. is offering a series of specials called the “Stimulus Package.”

Deals include two pasta dinners with meatballs for $7.95 and three large ham subs plus a liter of Pepsi for $11.99. Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., a large ham Italian costs only $3.99. 

Owner Angelo Roumeliotis said the deals are intended to recover loyal customers he has lost since the city began separating water and sewer pipes in front of the store, a project similar to those funded by the real federal stimulus package.

“We don’t see half of our regular customers anymore,” he said. “People get in the habit of going to a certain place. Once they change that habit, it will be very difficult to get them back.” 

For more than two weeks, crews have been working in front of the small market at the corner of Washington Avenue and Main Avenue, the latter of which has been under construction since March. Jersey barriers form a wall in front of the store and several Washington Avenue homes. A network of construction cones and a large electronic sign direct traffic away from the construction site and, in effect, Donatelli’s. 

As construction activity has increased, Roumeliotis said, business has declined. Donatelli’s is losing between $350 to $400 day because of the construction, which is expected to last another week or two. The loss many not sound like much, but for a small business, he said it is.

Roumeliotis said he has had to reduce staff and order supplies on an as-needed basis in order to survive. He is unsure those measures will be enough to keep from going out of business.

It’s the type of complaint city officials may be hearing more of as several construction projects have been launched around the city. This week, work began along Brighton Avenue that is expected to last well into August.  

A similar project interfered with business at the Mellen Street Market, a project that lasted all summer. Crews laid pipe, paved it over and dug it up again several times, before the project was finished.

Longtime Mellen Street cashier Tony Nappi said that, while business was affected, the store was able to survive because of a heavy volume of foot traffic generated in the Parkside neighborhood, the most densely populated area in the state.

“I can see where (Donatelli’s is) impacted a lot more than we were,” Nappi said. “It impacts business a lot. But what are you going to do? The work’s got to get done.”

Roumeliotis said he doesn’t blame construction workers, who are only doing their job. He has taken his grievance to city officials, including City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who stopped by the store to listen to his concerns, but did not offer anything in the way of tangible support. Leeman also did not reply to a reporter’s e-mail inquiry about the situation at Donatelli’s.

“If they’re going to be doing something that impacts a business, they should allocate something to help that business,” Roumeliotis said. “Why should I take the hit for something the city is doing?

“What am I going to do, ask for a tax break or something?,” he continued. “They’ll laugh me out of the room.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net


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p-donatellis.jpgAngelo Roumeliotis, owner of Donatelli’s Variety, says construction on Washington Avenue has driven away his loyal customers. (Billings photo)