Part of the Colorado Metro Interstate Expansion project will include closing the Bijou Street bridge for at least nine months in 2007, severing the main traffic vein into the downtown business district.

While no one is certain what effect that could have on commerce, downtown business owners don’t seem to be fretting – yet.

Sam Eppley opened his cookware business, Sparrow Hawk Ltd. at 12 E. Bijou St. about 27 years ago. It’s roughly a block away from the bridge.

He sees whatever impact the project will bring as a necessary inconvenience and a fair price for replacing the aging structure.

“It’s kind of like remodeling your bathroom,” he said. “You’re excited about it, but it’s never really a great time to do it.”

Eppley is confident that his sales will remain steady because shoppers see downtown, rather than individual stores, as a destination point. He’s betting that consumers will continue to travel to downtown using alternate routes during the closure.

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He also said people who work downtown will continue to support his business by shopping during and after work.

He could be right.

An estimated 43,000 people work in the downtown area, according to the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership.

“People still have to come to work whether the bridge is there or not,” Eppley said. “I don’t think it will be that bad.”

Michael Knight of Knight Watch and Jewelry has run his business from 19½ E. Kiowa St. for 24 years. His store, too, is about a block from the bridge.

Knight is taking a wait and see approach to the project.

“I don’t think it will be that big a deal, but you never know,” he said. “We may not know how much we depend on that bridge until it closes, so, we’ll see.”

Bob Chandler is a little more uneasy.

He opened The Golf Break at 120 N. Tejon St. about a year ago and believes his business will suffer during construction.

He said that the COSMIX construction under way on north I-25 is already stopping people from making the trip downtown.

COSMIX began last month and will include widening I-25 and repairing its bridges through the heart of the city.

The work includes razing the aging Bijou bridge and building a new one.

Construction at Bijou is still more than a year away and is scheduled to avoid conflict with the holiday shopping season. Work begins Jan. 2, 2007 and should be finished by October.

Planners recently provided a glimpse into the Bijou project’s details, which include rerouting traffic and providing free shuttle service for pedestrians.

Whatever impact the project has on downtown commerce, COSMIX officials plan to help businesses during construction by providing access maps with listings of businesses.

Project officials will work with the Downtown Partnership to craft a public relations campaign to promote the area’s business, said Bill Badger, a spokesman for Rockrimmon Constructors, which is working on COSMIX.

No advertising plans are certain, but Badger said that the campaign could begin after construction on Bijou is complete.

“A ribbon cutting will help let people know the access is back and the businesses are still there,” he said.

-Rob.Larimer@csbj.com