New bridge in east Minn. hurts some businesses

Published 8:37 am Tuesday, September 12, 2017

STILLWATER, Minn.  — A new bridge in eastern Minnesota has been a boon to some businesses, but other businesses have suffered.

The St. Croix River Bridge has allowed commuters to shorten their drive, given bicyclists a new path over the river and stopped traffic jams in downtown Stillwater since it opened Aug. 2. The bridge connects Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, and St. Joseph, Wisconsin.

But some business owners on the Wisconsin Highway 35 who saw traffic from the shuttered Stillwater Lift Bridge, located 2 miles north, say their companies have suffered now that the new bridge directs traffic to the Wisconsin Highway 64 and bypasses their area.

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Al Severson has owned B & L Liquor in Houlton, Wisconsin, for 30 years. He told the Pioneer Press that business has dropped 85 percent.

“That bridge is probably going to take me under,” Severson said. “That is what I am in fear of.”

He said he’s seen an increase in bike traffic, but that cyclists usually don’t stop at his liquor store.

Severson said he has had to lay off two employees and that he isn’t sure if his business will make it.

“I worry about staying in business,” Severson said. “I am starting to have thoughts about that. It’s like a ghost town here.”

Marathon Gas, the area’s only convenience store and gas station, has also seen a drop in business, said Roxy Rockwood, a clerk.

Rockwood said she noticed the change immediately.

“It was dramatic,” Rockwood said. “We still get business from locals, but not from anyone driving through.”

Some area businesses have benefited from the bridge change.

Terry Smith, who owns Anderson Heating, said his business never relied on high traffic flow to attract customers. With the new bridge in place, his dispatch service trucks have an easier time getting to Stillwater.

“Our service to customers has improved tremendously,” Smith said.