Downtown Annapolis needs you now more than ever. The long-awaited reconstruction of Main Street in the state capital has begun and it won't be easy. Already a half-dozen businesses on the downtown's main thoroughfare have given notice that they won't be staying around for the finish. Quite probably others will be unable to survive the eight-month turmoil.
At the recent ground-breaking ceremony, Annapolis Mayor Alfred Hopkins acknowledged the difficulty and pleaded with the public to support restaurants and shops downtown: "During this time, all the merchants are going to have a difficult time. We know that. Do everything you can to patronize them."
Despite the dread and foreboding, there are real reasons for optimism. Annapolis seems to have learned from its reconstruction of State Circle several years ago the importance of good communication. During the rebricking of the circle, residents and business owners often were left in the dark about the work's progress and tourists got lost trying to pick their way through the rubble.
The city government is determined to avoid those mistakes this time. Someone has been hired to act as a liaison between merchants, visitors and construction crews. A brochure has been printed to inform tourists of the project. The business association and neighborhood groups will be briefed regularly on the project. Signs will be installed to direct drivers and pedestrians around the construction. A low-interest loan program is being offered to help downtown businesses that need it. The city is offering to defray some of the costs of installing sprinklers on the second floors of buildings to encourage businesses to use or rent their upstairs spaces.
In fact, this time the city is treating the $5 million face-lift not only as a necessary inconvenience but as a reason to celebrate. A marketing company has devised the slogan, "Main Street: I Dig It." T-shirts with the logo are being sold and parties are planned to mark the halfway mark and the start of the Christmas season. If God gives you lemons, the organizers seem to realize, you make lemonade -- and sell lemon souvenirs, too.
The city should be commended for its upbeat approach, but the work will be for naught unless area residents do their part in patronizing Main Street and keeping their downtown alive.