Forest Street construction completed, now the 'prettiest street in town"™
The street is sealed, red brick sidewalks are laid and only a few steps remain unfinished as construction subsides and a new Forest Street emerges this month.
The nearly complete three-month-long construction spree eliminates parking along the west side of the street, which reduces vehicle congestion along the strip.
Wide brick sidewalks now border the newly paved street and replace the formerly small, uprooted walkways.
"Tree roots were heaving the sidewalks and causing a tripping hazard," said Keith Simpson of Keith E. Simpson Assoc. Landscape Architects, the Forest Street-based business that helped craft the renovation.
Five trees on Forest Street and two trees on East Avenue were removed during construction.
Still to come are the finishing touches: at least 11 new trees in planter boxes and old fashioned lampposts will soon bejewel the smooth new sidewalks.
The seven trees removed during construction will be replaced and at least four new trees will be added on the north end of the street, according to Keith E. Simpson Assoc. Senior Associate William Pollack. The planter boxes, he said, eliminate the risk of salt contamination and sidewalk upheaval that might be a factor if the trees were planted in the ground. The planters also raise the elevation of the trees, which Simpson said will create more canopy quicker than if the trees were rooted in the ground.
According to Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann, the new streetlights should be pitched around Dec. 15 and the trees and planters should be placed shortly after Jan. 1.
"We're really delighted that [Forest Street has] gone from being one of the least attended streets in town to one of the nicest," Simpson said.
Tyler Taylor, owner of The Summer House on Forest Street, said that over the years, Forest Street has been lost among carefully pruned Main and Elm streets.
"[Forest Street] was not pretty. It was kind of not cohesive to what the rest of the town looks like," Taylor said, adding, "Forest Street can be kind of seen as the stepsister of downtown, so I do feel like it's important that it's heard. We have to be a little louder than Elm Street does."
Last week, construction workers detected the sound of rushing water from beneath the newly paved street, Mann said. Connecticut Light and Power workers investigated and found the source of the sound: a disconnected outlet hose that, according to Mann, should have been redistributing street grate overflow water from an underground pump. CL&P workers corrected the problem on Friday, he said.
Despite minor setbacks, the bulk of the construction was finished to meet Public Works' deadline goal of Labor Day, Mann said.
The long-awaited revamp, Taylor said, has been key to making Forest Street what she now calls "the prettiest street in town."
New Canaan Ski and Sport owner Pam Alberino agrees that the renovation is paramount to Forest Street beautification, but said that the holiday season is an especially inconvenient time of year for the disruption.
Alberino said she experienced a significant drop in customer traffic during the normally bustling seven days leading up to Thanksgiving.
"[From] the week before Thanksgiving, up to Thanksgiving, we had a 6-foot tall fence in front of our door, and every time you opened the door it hit the fence. If [shoppers] can't park and they can't get into the front door, they leave," she said, describing the circumstances that she said deterred a significant percentage of customers from the athletics shop that week.
Alberino does not think that shoppers were under the impression that Ski and Sport was closed during the week before Thanksgiving; rather, she thinks that they did not want to be bothered with the construction chaos in front of the main entrance or with traveling to the back door to enter the store.
"As soon as it's done, it will be awesome," Alberino said. "This is just a bad time."
Athletic Shoe Factory General Manager Tony DeBenedictis said the footwear store's business has not been compromised by the construction. Ski and Sport is the only shop that suffered from the placement of a fence directly in front of its main entrance, he said.
"There's been some minor inconveniences, but the benefits are going to more than outweigh them," DeBenedictis said.
Business at Cava, co-owner Vincente Siguenza said, was not influenced by the construction.
"I never had a complaint from a customer," he said.
The widened sidewalks are particularly beneficial for Cava and other Forest Street eateries, Siguenza said, because they offer ample room for the addition of open-air dining to the strip.
Cava hosted a trial alfresco seating section for about three weeks beginning in late September. The public responded enthusiastically to the 28-person outdoor seating section, Siguenza said.
In the spring, many restaurants on the row will instate alfresco dining as a new street-wide staple, Siguenza said.
"To celebrate the new look and these new opportunities, all of the restaurants and store owners are now doing Christmas stuff and really getting this to look nice with white lights and a French feel and fun," Taylor said. "It's just a really beautiful destination."
This holiday season Taylor will feature a temporary pop-up store within her shop during the three weeks leading to Christmas. Kristin Reiser of Elle Marie Baby, an Internet-based luxury baby clothing, gift and toy boutique, will vend organic maternity wear and infant-sized threads inside the home goods store.
The tumultuous economic climate inspired this new business experiment, Taylor said.
"This is a really unique street to New Canaan because every store owner knows each other; every store owner helps each other," Taylor said. "If I have an event I try to have Cava cater it. If Ski and Sport is having a 25 percent off sale, we'll match that for that day. Everybody on the street works beautifully together. We are only as strong as our neighbors are. We all have a great community down here and now [this] makeover will put us over the top."