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By NOLA L. SARKISIAN

Staff Reporter

Some businesses have already closed their doors after deciding they won't be able to make it. Others are expecting plunges in business after July 1, when West Hollywood begins the biggest public works project in its 15-year history.

When it's all done 20 months later, the snake-like patchwork of cracked pavement and sidewalks along a three-mile stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard will be transformed into a smooth, inviting stretch of urban highway complete with badly need left-turn lanes.

The question is whether merchants can survive the months of disruption.

"If people can't get to you, it doesn't matter how great you are," said Dean Wilson, vice president and general manager of Koontz Hardware, which has sold everything from axes to dinner plates for 61 years.

"It can really impact us. Most of our customers say, 'Don't worry.' One said he'd walk through a sewer pipe to get to us, but you know how people are. They say something and then they find another store."

West Hollywood officials insist the concerns aren't falling on deaf ears.

"There's no way of doing a project like this without impacting the city. But, we've got to keep the long-range perspective in mind," said Mayor John Heilman. "We don't want to lose businesses, but the reality is, businesses will be lost. There's no way we can be a guarantor of business success. We have businesses that are marginal, and if it weren't for the construction, a bad heat wave could put them out."

The city is handling the project after Caltrans relinquished authority over the stretch of Route 66 from La Brea Avenue to Doheny Drive. The state has provided $8.6 million while the city is kicking in another $7.4 million for the project, which includes narrowing the central median from 45 to 14 feet, widening the 10-foot sidewalks to 20 feet, and planting 1,000 evergreen, elms and jacaranda trees along the boulevard.

The timing couldn't be worse. Construction is set to begin when as many as 78,000 people flood West Hollywood on summer weekends. Officials also must decide what to do about several major revenue-generating events that occur each year along the boulevard, including the Christopher Street West Gay Pride Festival, Halloween party and Mardi Gras celebration.

"We don't want to paint a Pollyanna picture of what will happen, but we know certain situations can be stimulated to offset the process," said Brad Burlingame, president of the West Hollywood Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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