CTDOT’s Route 82 roundabout plan will cost Norwich business owners
NORWICH — While Connecticut wants to make driving in Norwich safer, it will come at the cost of shutting down and displacing local businesses.
Last June, the State Department of Transport reiterated to the Norwich public that land will have to be taken for its multi-year plan to add a total of six roundabouts along West Main Street. Land seizures will result in the loss of assets of some businesses.
In the first phase, five companies will lose their locations.
“I don’t know why people want to do this,” said Lorenzo Paulino, owner of Garage Barber Shop LLC, one of the businesses on the seized land. “It’s not good; it’s really bad.”
Josh Morgan, spokesman for the Department of Transport, said in an email that everything is an ongoing process.
“As the roundabout safety improvement project progresses, CTDOT will continue to work closely with city officials, local residents and the business community on next steps,” Morgan said. “When the time comes, there will be many public awareness and information meetings regarding Phase 2.”
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Paulino opened his current hair salon three years ago. He chose this location because he said it’s in a nicer part of town and easily accessible via Route 82. His customers come from casino towns.
“This place is easy for everyone,” Paulino said. “I tell them I’m next to Chelsea Groton Bank, and that’s the only one we have here on the West Main.”
During this period, he formed relationships with clients, some of which turned into friendships.
“If I move to another place, it’s like starting over,” Paulino said.
Mashantucket resident Xavier Martinez, one of Paulino’s clients, said he liked having a Spanish-speaking barber nearby and wasn’t sure what he would do if the Garage Barber Shop had to move.
“Right now I’m driving 25 minutes here,” he said. “If he moves an hour (away), I can’t go to him.”
So far, Paulino hasn’t heard from anyone in the state.
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Dayna Gallivan, owner and operator of All The Right Moves Dance Center, has known about the project for at least five years. She contacted the state, but they focused on the plan that would force her out of her current apartment building.
“Nothing like ‘I’m so sorry,'” Gallivan said. “No excuses, just basically on point about what’s going to happen.”
Gallivan has a long history at 299 West Main St. His business has been there for 28 of his 33 years. Gallivan said she and her husband bought it from a man who wanted to see the building used and animated, as a cafe was one of the previous businesses. After meeting the previous owner in his kitchen, Gallivan said he was more than happy to sell the building to the dance studio.
While the pandemic has been tough on everyone, Gallivan said business has been good in previous years. Its location also helped the business, providing visibility from the main road and giving students something to do while their parents ran errands.
“They really appreciate that the property is there on West Main Street, where there’s just about everything,” Gallivan said.
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On a typical day, the studio will have 10 classes in a single night, every day of the week. Gallivan’s four instructors, including his daughter, have been former students of the studio, creating a family atmosphere.
Gallivan does not want to leave the city, as Norwich is a central hub for all surrounding towns and West Main Street is a prime location. The thought of being forced to move is devastating, after all the years and effort she has put into the current location.
“I won’t be able to afford another building on this strip the way prices are going right now,” Gallivan said. “These parents couldn’t afford the dance to buy a new building.”
Gallivan said she doesn’t yet know how much the state will compensate her.
“We didn’t get that far,” Gallivan said. “I know I don’t want roundabouts, and that’s going to turn people away. All businesses on this road will be destroyed.
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Ric Morrison, a friend of Paulino, owns and operates Vacs Plus LLC, a vacuum store with customers from the coast to Plainfield and Rhode Island, while others have retired from this niche business in over the years. Morrison isn’t losing his location, but he’s still concerned about a decline in construction business.
“During construction, I don’t know how they’re going to keep the traffic flowing without it affecting arriving customers,” Morrison said.
Morrison said the only communication he had from the state was a presentation of the plan.
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These business owners recognize how dangerous Route 82 can be, primarily due to the speed, but still wonder why the roundabout is the last option.
“Why don’t they put a stop sign or something on the street? says Paulin.
Gallivan is also hoping for a less invasive plan, calling the six roundabouts “oversized”. She is a fan of adding speed bumps instead and increasing police presence.
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“They have to slow down the speed, but I’m sure there are other ways to do it before they go into this operation,” Gallivan said. “There has to be a middle ground, which I don’t think they want to discuss.”
Morrison agreed with Gallivan that there should be more tickets from the police.
“I bet you their salaries will be paid 10 times with the tickets they can write,” he said.
Morrison called his section of Route 82 a “racetrack”, saying people can drive up to 80 mph.
“If you start with where the Shell gas station is, in this light here, it’s a straight shot,” Morrison said.
What happens next?
Paulino hopes there is a way to build around existing businesses. Morrison said he didn’t know if things would be different.
Gallivan said that since construction would take years, people might just avoid the West Side.
“I would drive to Lisbon, or I would drive to Waterford, before hitting all the construction to get to a little place,” Gallivan said.