Perry Co. businesses on Rt. 11/15 brace for long, lonely summer

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MARYSVILLE, Perry County, Pa. -- There is one good thing which has come out of the US-11/15 road closure in Marysville for Doug Gibson.

"It's kind of nice being able to get in and out of shop without any obstruction," Gibson quipped.

Other than that, the owner of Blue Mountain Outfitters is preparing for a long summer, with a decline in customers. Nearly a half mile from his outdoors specialty store in the center of Marysville, US-11/15 is closed, as construction crews work to secure a 200-foot rock slope.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is planning for the road to remain closed until the end of July.

"They're taking three of our busiest months of the year and deleting them," Gibson said.

PennDOT maintains the project is a necessary one for safety reasons. Since announcing its plans to close the road nearly a year ago, PennDOT has met with local business owners in Marysville and Duncannon who voiced concerns. Many asked why traffic couldn't be opened to a single lane, similar to the rock slope project in Duncannon last summer. However, the height of the Marysville Rock Slope project is causing contractor J.D. Eckman to use a crane the size of which takes up the entire road.

Much like Gibson's store, summer months are often busiest at Big Bee Boats & RV in Penn Township, where President Randy Rohrer anticipates losing around 50 percent of his normal business in May, June, and July.

"That could mean as much a $1.2 million to $1.5 million," he says.

Fortunately for Rohrer, he plans to take the summer months in stride. Big Bee Boats, he says, has a loyal customer base, many of whom make plans days in advance to visit his store, with a plan in mind on what to buy. Where Rohrer has seen the biggest change in the first three weeks of the US-11/15 closure is in drive-by traffic.

"We're seeing a substantial drop in walk-ups," he says. "Usually, we'll get around 25 walk-ups per day. Now it's down to 3 or 4. Being here on 11 and 15 has been good to us for 46 years, but I guess you're going to ride a rough one every now and then."

Back at Blue Mountain Outfitters, Doug Gibson continues to get customers. Many, however, stop in asking for directions.

"Half the people walk in and tell us, 'I probably wouldn't have made the trip if I'd have known how bad the detour was,'" says Doug's wife Mary, who manages the business.

Both Mary and Doug are happy to help lost drivers find their way, in the hopes of some good karma down the road.

"Hopefully, it will be incentive for them to come back and shop again," Mary says.

Blue Mountain Outfitters won't have to close, Doug says, but it doesn't mean the next three months will be easy. He expects the biggest hit will come in the rental business, where people often take canoes and kayaks out on the Susquehanna River.

He's not thinking about the worst-case scenario: if plans to fix the rock slope falls behind schedule.

"This is my livelihood, my retirement," he says. "Take that away from me, I might have to go work for the state or something."

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