26 Feb 2022

Roadworks during peak trading season leave Shannon businesses stranded

6:17 am on 26 February 2022

Roadworks in Horowhenua are having a huge effect on businesses in Shannon, with some reporting drops in trade of up to 90 percent.

Vicki Olsen says Shannanigans has had days where it’s made no money.

Vicki Olsen says Shannanigans has had days where it’s made no money. Photo: RNZ/Jimmy Ellingham

Shops in Shannon rely on the usually busy flow of motorists on State Highway 57, but customer numbers have tanked since January 9.

That's when a small section of SH57 south of Levin was closed to northbound traffic for roadworks expected to last until the middle of the year.

Traffic heading towards Palmerston North can still reach SH57, but must use local roads to get there. Most are sticking to the official detour on SH1 through Levin and Foxton.

Despite desperate calls from Shannon shops and cafes, there are no signs saying the town is open for business or telling motorists they can still get there easily. They say one would be especially welcome at the busy SH1-Queen Street intersection in Levin.

The effect on Shannon is devastating, where businesses have missed out on their usually busy summer period.

The Horseman's Cafe owner Alan Windle is normally rushed off his feet as holiday motorists stop for a bite to eat.

And then there are truck drivers, filling their boots with a big breakfast. But not this year.

The Horseman’s Cafe owner Alan Windle wants people to know Shannon is still open for business.

The Horseman’s Cafe owner Alan Windle wants people to know Shannon is still open for business. Photo: RNZ/Jimmy Ellingham

Windle is one of many Shannon business owners doing it tough.

"It's our high season. It's bad enough without any tourists, but now with the road closed and Covid compacting on top of it we're 70 percent down on where we normally are at this stage.

"This time of the year is when we normally do our good turnover to tide us through winter."

The cafe has cut staff hours and Windle and the other owner have begun doing takeaways two nights a week on top of their normal seven-days-a-week hours to raise cash for wages.

"It's just rock bottom for us really and at this stage I can't see how we can climb out without improvising."

Like all business owners RNZ spoke to, Windle said he only learned of the partial road closure shortly before Christmas.

He wasn't sure how long he could keep pouring money into the business to stay afloat.

Shannon's Streetwise coffee cart owner Andrea Rider said she had noticed a big drop in traffic heading north and, as a result, a drop in customers.

During typical weekday mornings, drivers heading towards Palmerston North had made up about 70 percent of the cart's business.

Weekends are now also quiet.

State Highway 57 through Shannon is open, despite one lane of the road being closed near Levin.

State Highway 57 through Shannon is open, despite one lane of the road being closed near Levin. Photo: RNZ/Jimmy Ellingham

"We're just hoping we can find a way to pick it up and hopefully people will find a way to us," she said.

"We need people to know that they can still get here."

Rider said a big sign was needed for motorists who thought they couldn't get on to SH57 when heading north.

"We pay our rates. Why can't we get that support?

"We're just trying to survive. People's rent needs paying and [they need] food on the table, and without the traffic and people I'm afraid to say there could be job losses. It's scary."

At the Shannanigans co-op, shop worker Vicki Olsen said in the past two or three weeks it had probably lost 90 percent of its trade.

There were days when no customers walked through the door during what was its busy period.

"At first it wasn't too bad because we had the school holidays still. [Now], some days we just think, 'Is it worth opening?'

"We've had days where we've made no money at all."

Shannanigans is one of several businesses with an SOS - Save Our Shannon - sign out the front.

Another is The Olde Plum Duff gift shop, where owner Chris Velekov said business was well down.

"What we've got at the moment is commuter traffic. We don't have any shopper traffic. We have many other things causing that as well. It's not just the road closure.

"But as soon as January 9 hit, boom. And we haven't recovered from that," she said.

"I have actually relisted my hours as opening from 10.30 until whenever because there's so much uncertainty as to how the day will go and whether I'm just here with lights on and bits and pieces like that for no reason."

Velekov has run businesses in Shannon for 21 years, previously owning a cafe.

She said she had seen the town's success rise and fall.

"This roading issue has definitely put us on the back foot when we were coming on and having a little bit of a resurgence."

Her shop's motto is "Keep calm and shop in Shannon". She wasn't sure how much longer she could go on.

Toy Circus owner Paddy McIvor says the lack of traffic through Shannon has hit his business on top the Covid downturn.

Toy Circus owner Paddy McIvor says the lack of traffic through Shannon has hit his business on top the Covid downturn. Photo: RNZ/Jimmy Ellingham

Shannon's Toy Circus is set back a few blocks from the main road.

Owner Paddy McIvor used to welcome visits from schools, children's birthday parties and adult nostalgia trips before Covid halted that.

Now, the partial road closure has robbed him of more visitors.

"I do rely on people seeing my signs out on the main road and obviously when there's no traffic going through there's no one to see them."

Horowhenua District councillor Sam Jennings late last year organised a petition to appeal for the roadworks to be delayed.

Since then he's worked to bring the concerns of Shannon businesses to Waka Kotahi and council officials. He said the transport agency was open to listening to ideas about mitigating the effect on the town.

"It's really encouraging they are at least considering how they might change their approach."

Jennings said it was important people were aware they could travel to Shannon.

A Horowhenua District Council spokeswoman said she wasn't aware of any council plans for signs pointing motorists to Shannon or advertising campaigns.

Waka Kotahi's regional relationship manager for the central North Island, Linda Stewart, said the agency couldn't promote the use of local roads, only state highways.

Waka Kotahi accepted it could have done more consultation about the partial closure and that it could have been done better, Stewart said.

"We had engaged with the community about the roadworks and the proposed detour route, but it probably wasn't fulsome enough and we've really taken that feedback on board from the community."

The $15 million safety improvements were needed on a stretch of road where six people had died and 12 were injured since 2015.

But Waka Kotahi was aware of the effect on Shannon, and had met with businesses and people from the community as well as district councillors.

Resulting from that was the possibility of an adjustment to how the roadworks were carried out in later stages so traffic could travel both ways along SH57, or the work could be done quicker.

However, there were risks with those approaches, Stewart said.

"We met again with Horowhenua District councillors and some of the business owners to see if there are some other opportunities that we could also do to support the Shannon community.

"That could be support with advertising or marketing and the community is coming up with ideas around events that might stimulate more foot traffic.

"We haven't confirmed anything as yet, but there are some great suggestions and ideas that we're all working through together."

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