Interstate 40 repairs affecting Seligman businesses

Old-timers in Seligman, Arizona, must be getting a sense of deja vu, and not in a good way.

Forty years after Seligman businesses were devastated by the opening of Interstate 40, the interstate is hampering businesses again — this time because of repairs to three bridges leading into the town.

The Arizona Department of Transportation began the rebuilding project in June and tried to ease problems and concerns by meeting with businesses and placing detour signs on the interstate to direct travelers to alternate ways into Seligman.

But apparently the signs are not enough. According to the Williams News:

“The impacts that I’ve noticed is that people are coming in and seeing that there’s this big closed sign across Seligman,” said Brenda Bryant, owner of Westside Lilo’s restaurant.

Bryant said she spoke to the state about changing the wording on the sign to say detour instead of closed because she thought it was confusing for anyone exiting for Seligman.

“A lot of people are thinking the town is closed,” she said. […]

“How do people know what is Exit 123 and what is Exit 121?” Bryant asked. “It should say exit … is closed and exit … for the detour.”

Debbie Mejia, owner of the Road Kill Café, the Route 66 General Store, the Historic Route 66 Motel and Historic Route 66 Auto Shop agrees with Bryant — business has been bad since the construction started and the wording on the signs is partially to blame.

“It’s horrible. We went to our winter hours already because there is no business,” Mejia said. “We have our waitresses that rely on their tips through the summer to get through the winter and I just feel so bad for them.”

Meija said the restaurant is currently 73 percent down in sales from the last month and 21 percent down since this time last year. She said the percentage is less in the general store.

Meija said the restaurant cut back on its operating hours and hours to employees because of the drop-off in business. But the complex’s auto-repair business and tow service haven’t been affected.

Another effect of the bridge projects is locals are so irked, they’ve been nasty to its construction crews. As a result, the crews — many of which have stayed at local motels during the work — have shunned Seligman restaurants, fearing reprisals from locals there.

The newspaper article didn’t address this, but the first thing that popped into my head was Angel Delgadillo and his Seligman barber shop. He was there Sept. 22, 1978, when I-40 opened and bypassed his town, devastating its businesses — including his. This recent video from the Las Vegas Review-Journal tells the tale:

Clarissa Delgadillo, manager of Angel’s Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman and his daughter, said in a telephone interview Wednesday business was down 30 percent at the shop this year.

Years after the 1978 bypass, Delgadillo helped found the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona and its annual Fun Run car cruise. He lobbied the state to declare Route 66 in his state as a historic highway. He shepherded these initiatives to help bring back visitors to Seligman.

Delgadillo himself became a tourist attraction because of his enthusiasm, hospitality and memories of what happened to Seligman. Thousands of people each year visit him at his business, which largely was converted into a Route 66 gift shop. Delgadillo is one of the three most consequential figures in Route 66 history — the others being Michael Wallis, because of his bestselling “Route 66: The Mother Road” book, and Cyrus Avery, who larely willed U.S. 66 into existence.

ADOT says it’s made an effort to tell travelers Seligman isn’t closed:

“ADOT understands there is never a convenient time to do construction work, but we partner with local businesses and communities to do what we can to support them through a project,” said Alvin Stump, district engineer for ADOT’s Northwest District in a press release prior to construction. […]

“ADOT has done other public outreach through a brochure and a video explaining the project and noting that visitors will be able to reach Seligman from I-40 throughout the project. Access via Route 66 isn’t affected,” wrote Ryan Harding, a spokesman for ADOT.

The three bridges being repaired are at least 40 years old. The project is scheduled to be finished in April, in time for the next Route 66 tourism season. More about the Seligman bridge projects may be found here.

Clarissa Delgadillo said ADOT originally wanted to do bridge repairs in two consecutive May-through-October seasons. But townsfolk persuaded the agency to finish it in one year.

So Seligman — and Angel — are suffering again from I-40. At least it’s much more temporary.

(Image of Seligman, Arizona, near Interstate 40 by stephernie via Flickr)

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