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Detour keeps bait shop from reeling in customers
Shop owner says Clarks Bridge road work hurts business
Donna Gilder waits Friday for customers at her Clarks Bridge Road business. Gilder said she believes the DOT’s signs lead motorists to think the boat ramp at Clarks Bridge Park is closed because they only indicate Ga. 284 is closed. Gilder estimates business at her bait shop and thrift store has dropped more than 90 percent.

The live bait side of Donna Gilder’s storefront on Ga. 284/Clarks Bridge Road isn’t luring many customers these days.

Cars have slowed to a trickle along normally busy Ga. 284 northbound since the Georgia Department of Transportation closed the road to through traffic between U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway in Clermont and U.S. 129/Limestone Parkway in Gainesville.

Motorists still can reach the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue and Clarks Bridge Park’s boat ramps by traveling the stretch, which includes Gilder’s businesses, Donna’s Bait Shop and Treasures Within, contained in the same building.

“My main thing is I’m just trying to let people know — fishermen, boaters and people who use Clarks Bridge Park on a daily basis — that they can get there,” Gilder said Friday.

She said she has handed out fliers on boats at Laurel and Little River parks, and “every fisherman we’ve talked to said they didn’t realize they could come down here.”

Also, Gilder said she would have liked to have seen the DOT put up a sign — or add to a sign — that the boat ramps and beach at Clarks Bridge are open.

The DOT has placed signs at Clarks Bridge Road and Limestone Parkway but also ones that say “Ga. 284 closed ahead, Follow detour” on Limestone Parkway just south of Clarks Bridge.

“The printed detour signs have to be very specific and (depict) short messages because people are driving past them at 45 mph-plus,” DOT district spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

However, Gilder is planning to follow through on making her own signs that might help direct potential customers her way.

The Clarks Bridge stretch leading to Gilder’s stores is mostly residential, with a few businesses closer to Limestone Parkway saying they haven’t seen much impact from the detour — at least in terms of declining sales.

Phyllis Keyse, co-owner of Hair Unlimited, said the detour has created some hardship, especially delays, in customers reaching her shop.

“A lot of the ladies are older and their patience is not quite like it used to be,” she said, with a laugh. “But they understand and everything just works out.”

Pope said the DOT has not had any complaints from business owners.

“The good news is the detour has been in place for 2« weeks and work is going well,” she said. “Afternoon storms have slowed work a little, but (the road is) still on schedule to reopen July 26.”

The DOT’s detour involves only state-maintained routes: Clarks Bridge Road, Cleveland Highway, U.S. 129/Limestone Parkway and Ga. 52/Brookton-Lula Road. There are several local connections between Clarks Bridge Road and Cleveland Highway, including Lakeland and Honeysuckle roads.

District Engineer Bayne Smith has said no routine maintenance will take place on the detour route.

The tunnel is part of an overall $8.7 million project to replace the 56-year-old Clarks Bridge, which doesn’t meet current design standards.

The entire project is set for completion by Dec. 31, 2015.

Pope has said the road closure is taking place in the summer so as not to affect school travel.

“But it’s (taking place) during my busiest season,” Gilder said.