Long before cranes began dismantling the 66-year-old Beaver Creek bridge on US 53 in Galesville, business owners from the city's downtown were preparing for the disruption to come. Although they weren't looking forward to the closure and traffic detour off the city's Main Street for the summer and fall of 1997, the merchants knew a new bridge was badly needed. They also understood it was the best time to undertake two additional projects: replacement of the sanitary sewer and water lines around the downtown Square (a city project), and historical restoration of the Square (a city and Chamber of Commerce-funded initiative).
Organized by the Galesville Area Chamber of Commerce, representatives from the Gale Laundromat, the Bank of Galesville, Casberg's Department Store, the Back Yard Patio Café, Sunset Gardens Greenhouse & Floral, and several other businesses met with the WisDOT project manager, representatives from the city, and the prime contractor three times prior to the start of construction.
The first meeting was held in March 1996, a full year before construction started. The second gathering was held in October 1996 - seven months ahead of the improvements. The last meeting took place on March 11, 1997, just days before the "Road Closed" signs were erected. Topics at the meetings included the type of work to be performed, the construction schedule, possible impacts to businesses, and other communities that had experienced road construction in their business districts.
By the third meeting, the businesses had a feel for some of the challenges they would face while the bridge was out and the improvements on the Square were underway. That's why several responded positively to an idea proposed by the owner of the weekly newspaper, the Galesville Republication.
The owner developed a "Road to Savings" promotional campaign that featured advertising space for 20 businesses in a monthly two-page spread of the paper. The headline on the left side of the tab read: "Follow the Road to Savings. The bridge in Galesville is closed, but we're Open for Business." The opposing headline featured a construction update, which discussed the project schedule, detour changes and other information to help customers reach businesses.
Shops like Critzman Auto Body went the extra mile to keep their customers. "If you can't get to us for an estimate, we will come to you," their newspaper advertisement promised. Bank of Galesville advertisements featured maps that showed customers where to park. They also stationed a bank teller at a local grocery store several blocks from the construction site. Other bank advertisements read, "Give us a call for special arrangements we can make to meet your banking needs during the construction." The Galesville Pharmacy used its creativity by offering customers free prescription deliveries. And no one could miss the bold headlines on the newspaper advertisement that shouted, "The Road is Open to Gazebo Printing."
The citizens of Galesville spread the word about the "Road to Savings" in some inventive ways. One good example was a half-hour seminar at a community promotional event the weekend immediately preceding the start of the detour. The president of the Chamber of Commerce was the speaker at the event. Detour maps were distributed, and parking and access to businesses was discussed.
Throughout the US 53 project, the public was updated through articles reported in the Galesville Republican. Businesses were invited to monthly meetings with WisDOT's project manager, the city's public works director, and the prime contractor. These regular meetings gave the merchants a chance to voice their concerns and learn more about what was coming next.
Things started looking up for Galesville businesses when the new Beaver Creek bridge opened a full two weeks ahead of schedule. Although there was still work to be done on landscaping, sidewalks, retaining walls and the roadway underneath the bridge, the detour was removed, and once again, wheels were rolling on Main Street. The community planned a ribbon cutting ceremony in spring 1998, when finishing touches on both the state and city projects were complete.
More than anything, the Chamber Director said, business owners needed to keep a positive attitude throughout the process. They had to keep in mind there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The more pre-planning and working together the merchants did, he noted, the better off they would be. He stressed they accomplished much more as a team than they ever could individually.