Signage sought to solve Bijou business backwater bind

       The Bijou Street merchants want shoppers to know they haven't gone away.
       That was never a problem when there was a Bijou bridge. But since the span across I-25 was demolished in January for the I-25 widening project (COSMIX), the businesses around Bijou and Spruce streets have become a backwater.
       “Our business is down probably a third,” said Mike Morrissey, owner of Drive-In Liquors & Smokes, 141 N. Spruce St. “We're not getting any of the highway traffic anymore, and it's too hard for people to come over here from the downtown.”
       The entrepreneurs' fight, if it could be called that, is with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and its COSMIX contractor, Rockrimmon Constructors. When the bridge came down (it's to be replaced by October), Rockrimmon built a temporary southbound off-ramp at Pikes Peak Avenue, two blocks south of Bijou, along with a sign where the ramp crossed Spruce Street. The sign noted that “Bijou businesses” were to the right, but several weeks ago the sign disappeared and as of this week CDOT had still not replaced it.
       There is, however, a smallish sign pointing straight ahead, indicating the detour to the downtown.
       “It's been a nightmare,” said Susan Roberts, manager of the Denny's at 315 W. Bijou, estimating a 35 percent business downturn. “I've put up signs three different times, and they've taken them down.”
       Who exactly has removed all these signs is not known. Theft has been suggested, or perhaps a zealous city employee following sign codes. Currently, there are 8 ½- by-11-inch paper signs on phone poles along Spruce Street, informing those with excellent eyesight that the Clarion Hotel, 314 W. Bijou, still exists. A slightly larger and brighter sign, installed recently by CDOT on a pole just south of the Bijou-Spruce intersection, directs motorists to the Clarion and Denny's.
       More state help may be on the way. CDOT COSMIX manager Dave Poling, contacted by the Westside Pioneer this week, said that any missing detour signs “should go back in.” He added that he has also heard signage complaints from downtown merchants who feel that the detour from the Pikes Peak Avenue off-ramp is not marked clearly enough. “I'll tell our traffic folks that monitor it to make sure everything is up that's supposed to be up,” he said.
       The next day, George Hayward, a COSMIX spokesperson, told the Pioneer that plans now call for the key sign at the bottom of the off-ramp to be erected next week.
       For Morrissey, whose family has owned Drive-In Liquors since 1972, this is the fourth time a road project has occurred nearby, and each time it's taken its toll on trade. His opinion of COSMIX is that in planning the detour CDOT put too much emphasis on avoiding adverse imapcts to the nearby residential areas and the high- traffic Department of Human Services building. “They didn't care about the businesses,” he said. He's also concerned that the “Bijou businesses” sign at the bottom of the ramp, when it does go in, will be too small to make a difference.
       The Bijou closure cloud has presented one silver lining. The Family Dollar store, 22 N. Spruce St., has almost balanced its no-bridge losses by drivers seeing the store's sign from the temporary Pikes Peak Avenue off-ramp, according to employee Pat Michalski.
       Morrissey is grateful for what he does have. “Luckily, I have loyal customers,” he said. “If it wasn't for them, I'd be in big trouble.”
       A similar sentiment was expressed by Roberts. “The people here are locals from the Westside,” she said when interviewed in the restaurant this week. “They're tired of going to the other side of the interstate.”

Westside Pioneer article