A pie shop owner says an ongoing county construction project has cost her tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
About six weeks ago, Heather Sheire arrived to work at Livin’ the Pie Life at 2166 N. Glebe Road to find bulldozers tearing up the pavement in front of the shop.
“That’s how much notice I got from the county that there was going to be a disruption,” owner Sheire tells ARLnow, who opened the shop in 2016. She is now seeking financial compensation from county.
The construction was due to the ongoing Lee Highway and Glebe Road intersection improvement project which isn’t set to be substantially completed until the fall.
“Our parking was getting blocked and, then, 21st Road [N.] was getting blocked and, then, the sidewalk was getting blocked,” Sheire says, frustration rising in her voice. “Then, I started to notice our sales were down.”
The shop relies on walk-ups, she says, with about 90% of sales coming from walk-in orders.
Sheire even bought one of those feather-like flags as a way to catch people’s eyes from the road, but it was removed by construction crews.
March 3 was a tipping point. Again, Sheire saw a construction truck parked across the entrance of the shop’s driveway. So, she finally reached out to the county.
“[They] were sympathetic, but I need more than sympathy and friendlessness,” Sheire says. “This was having a very substantial economic impact on my business.”
She tells ARLnow, after comparing numbers from years past, that she believes the business has lost “tens of thousands of dollars” as a result of this construction project.
“I have a historical record from [March] last year to this year… we went from being down 10% to 46%,” she says.
Eric Balliet, spokesperson for Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, confirms that Sheire did reach out.
“Once we were made aware of the pie shop owner’s concerns, the project team responded by making every effort possible to accommodate the business during streetscape construction along their store frontage,” he writes to ARLnow.
According to Balliet, this included scheduling construction mostly on Mondays and Tuesdays (when the shop is closed), upgrading bike racks, installing a curb along parking spaces to prevent vehicles from damaging the building, and relocating street signs to improve visibility of the storefront.
Also, as part of the project, the county has upgraded the pie shop’s front walkway to concrete and expanded access to the store’s parking spaces for those driving northbound along N. Glebe Road.
Sheire agrees, for the most part, that the county has either already done the things promised or she believes they will — except for improving access to parking.
“It is trickier to get into the parking now than before. They added a short wall along the sidewalk on Glebe that now must be navigated to get into and out of the parking from Glebe,” she says. “It’s become a maze, a puzzle to get in there.”
But even fixing all of that will not change the financial damage that has already occurred to her business.
“[We] deserve some kind of financial compensation because they were literally blocking access to our business,” Sheire says. “It’s wrong for the county to initiate a project like this without taking into account the economic impact it has on a small business.”
In March, she received her business license tax bill from the county, which set her off.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she says. “I felt like Arlington County had not given me value for my business license.”
She contacted the Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava and other top local officials about waiving the tax, or offering some sort of compensation, but was told that could not be done.
“Ms. Sheire has stated her intent to recover financial damages caused by the County project and asked us to waive her taxes or offer compensation for her losses,” Arlington County Resident Ombudsman Ben Aiken tells ARLnow. “She has reached out to several officials in the County who have explained that we lack legal authority to waive taxes and are required to administer taxes according to the current County Code. Similarly, the County Manager does not have the authority to offer compensation.”
There’s also no program that offers financial assistance for hardship related to county projects, Aiken notes.
Sheire says she ended up paying the entire business license tax, including a late fee that she admits was an “oversight” on her part. But that doesn’t change her belief that Arlington should set up a program to help small businesses impacted by county projects.
“It promotes economic health in the county to have thriving small businesses,” says Sheire.”Yet, I feel like sometimes the county doesn’t prioritize helping them do well in business.”
As for the impact of the pandemic, Sheire says that sales were down about 9% in 2020, compared to 2019. However, the shop was previously growing 20-25% a year.
“All things considered, I’ll take it,” she says.
Nonetheless, between the coronavirus and the construction project, it’s been a tough year. Sheire is grateful for her loyal customers as Livin’ the Pie celebrates its fifth anniversary this month.
“We will survive this and I expect you will still see freshly-baked pies and treats at the Pie Shop in 5 years and 5 years after that,” she said.