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Businesses Prepare For Week-Long Sellwood Bridge Closure

OPB | Jan. 15, 2013 4:09 p.m. | Updated: Jan. 16, 2013 7:43 a.m. | Portland

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The Sellwood Bridge is scheduled to close at 5 a.m. Thursday. Workers will push the structure’s steel deck sideways about 60 feet over the weekend. Then they’ll reattach the deck to the road, so by the end of next week commuters  will be able to drive around the platform where the new bridge will be built. 

Business owners on either side of the bridge are pleased the closure is only scheduled for a week.  But some are still worried about the bottom line. 

Tom Dwyer Automotive has been here for the last 30 years. It has 19 bays and mechanics work on just about anything — except exotic cars.

But Thursday’s  closure has marketing manager Charles Letherwood a little spooked.  “We’ve been really worried about it for a long period of time,” he says.

Charles Letherwood, marketing manager at Tom Dwyer Automotive.

Charles Letherwood, marketing manager at Tom Dwyer Automotive.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

The shop is one block off the east side of the bridge.  Letherwood says they’ve been talking to customers to see if they’re going to start having their cars fixed elsewhere. 

“Really reassuringly they said no,” he says. “We’re going to keep on coming to you. It’s not like going to the grocery store, once a week. It’s a couple of months at a time in-between visits, so they say they’re going to stick with us for it.”

Still, the shop isn’t taking any risks. 

“We just put out a discount offer for anyone who schedules during that time,” Letherwood says. “You know, that’s going to go through the extra effort to come over here we’re going to give them a 15 percent discount off labor. We’ve been working with the Sellwood Westmoreland Business Alliance.  They’re going to be doing a shoo-fly move party kind of thing. We’ve got some food where they’re laying out at  the Riverfront park. So Saturday, when the move is happening, there’s going to be some people that are gathered up there to see. I intend to be one of them, it’s going to be interesting.”

Letherwood says he’s going to try to be the last person to drive over the old bridge and the first to drive over the new one when it opens. 

A few blocks east, Jim Sheehan, the owner of the Muddy Rudder tavern, isn’t worried about the bridge closure. 

Jim Sheehan, the owner of the Muddy Rudder tavern, with his family.

Jim Sheehan, the owner of the Muddy Rudder tavern, with his family.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

“A lot of my business is from the neighborhood,” Sheehan says. “There are people that do come from Lake Oswego and the southwest area, that unfortunately it’ll be difficult for them to cross. But it’s only closed for a week and that shouldn’t be a problem at all.”

He says some of his customers are planning an unofficial farewell to the venerable old bridge on Wednesday afternoon.

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“They’re going to toast the bridge in the middle of it and I guess there’s going to be some poetry reading and a few stories of the Sellwood Bridge,” Sheehan says. “And then they’re going to remove themselves and come to the Muddy Rudder for a small dinner afterwards.”

Sheehan’s own story about the Sellwood involves swimming off the boat dock underneath the bridge back in the early 1990s. He was new to town and figured the water would be pristine. Instead he encountered an old submerged shopping cart under the water.

A few blocks further away from the bridge is R. Spencer Antiques. Owner Bob Spencer has been in Sellwood since 1977 and has seen a lot of changes. He’s also unphased by the closure.

Bob Spencer, owner of R. Spencer Antiques.

Bob Spencer, owner of R. Spencer Antiques.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

 

“A week is really a non-event,” Spencer says. “It’s a blip. People will chase over here and for those who don’t, we’re not too concerned because it’s just a short time.”  

Many Sellwood residents have also pledged to do their part. Heather Nelson Koch wrote a a letter to the local business association suggesting everyone shop in the neighborhood for the week. 

“I think many of us really want to help our local businesses thrive during the closure as much as we can because there won’t be the normal foot traffic,” she says.

Barring bad weather, the relocated bridge deck is expected to open again Jan. 24.  The new bridge will be built over the next three years. 

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