WAXAHACHIE

The planned viaduct replacement project in downtown Waxahachie has now done more than drawn concerns from business owners and residents.

It has forced small business owners to close up shop.

The project involves the demolition and replacement of the existing U.S. Highway 77 viaduct with a northbound bridge, as well as the construction of a new parallel bridge to the west for southbound traffic. The project would also reconstruct areas near Elm and Monroe Streets to provide a couplet system that would tie into the proposed bridges. Each bridge would allow for one-way traffic.

Based on plans provided by TxDOT, several businesses around the area will be affected by the construction, including Pearman Oil and L.P Gas, H&H Grocery, The Red Barn Flea Market, and Cabinet Specialists.

Others, such as Los Tapatios and the Mike Moya Tire Shop, have already closed due to the project's path.

Nelda Brown, the owner of The Red Barn, stated she bought the building that houses her business as an investment six years ago and was informed by TxDOT about the project in October. At the time, she claims TxDOT officials only told her a partial demolition would be required to get the remaining three feet for construction.

However, in February, Brown was informed she would lose the entire building to eminent domain.

“I put my heart and soul in this place,” Brown said. “I love my customers, and it hurts to know that — for over three feet of a building — they want to demolish my whole building.”

Brown explained the paperwork received from TxDOT stated the building would be structurally unsound if was rebuilt after the partial demolition. She noted the State of Texas has yet to send anyone to assess her property, yet an independent evaluator told her it would be possible to remodel.

In hopes of saving her business, Brown started a petition through her store’s Facebook page asking the public to sign to show their support. She hopes the petition will help to sway the opinion at the upcoming hearing, which has not been set.

In the petition for condemnation filed May 8 in Ellis County Court at Law One against Brown, Attorney General Ken Paxton stated the Texas Transportation Commission has found Brown’s property suitable for public use for the road improvements.

“I want to save my buildings and do what they wanted to do in the beginning with just taking the original three feet,” Brown said.

Her Change.org petition, titled “Nelda Brown: Help support the Red Barn, Waxahachie, Texas, save it from destruction due to construction," had 2,453 signatures as of press time Tuesday.

Red Barn customers have posted words of encouragement and support on the store’s Facebook page.

Tonya Carnrike posted, “Signed and shared! This is one of our favorite antiquing places.”

Shellie Dryden added, “That’s pretty crappy to say it nicely” about the project taking the building.

Brown stated TxDOT has offered her $348,000 for her property, which does not even repay her $440,000 mortgage.

Les Clemons, a Red Barn vendor, said the loss of the Red Barn will not just affect one person, but it will be a ripple.

“We have 85 vendors that all sell merchandise here. It is going to kill us. It is going to ruin us,” Clemons said. “We have got a lot of customers who come from all over. They are disappointed and are not happy.”

Tim Connette, owner of Cool Stuff at the Red Barn, does feel the project would provide better traffic flow for downtown, but it should be accomplished in a way to meet the needs of both groups.

“The right thing to do based on the information that I have is to let her keep her building,” Connett said. “They need three feet. Take three feet. Don’t take an entire building for just three feet.”

Across the viaduct from the Red Barn is H&H Grocery, which has been apart of the community since it opened around 1949. Janet Napps’ family has operated the convenience store and bait shop since 1986 after purchasing it from the original owner, Elva Huskins.

Napps explained it is not cost-effective to rebuild or to replicate the atmosphere that will be lost due to the project that is planned to place a curb and sidewalk against the building's entrance — covering the front parking lot.

She plans to close the storefront when the project gets underway.

Napps stated the store would be missed, and not only for the fresh food they serve but also for the personal touch.

“We know all of the customers and know all about their families. We get to know everyone personally,” Napps said. “It is just kind of like a family get together when everybody comes in.”

Jan Carter, an H&H customer, stated she is sad about the closing and the loss of friends she has made over the past decade, as she often drops by for breakfast or lunch.

“I have been coming here for so long. I sit and tell them my problems and I hear their problems,” Carter said. “I don’t know what I will do anymore. It is more than just a meal.”

As for Los Tapatios, a business that will be entirely demolished by the planned project, the owners have already removed all signage and permanently closed. The staff at Los Tapatios has since posted a pair of notes on its door thanking the community.

“Our restaurant will be closing down today in this location. Thank you for supporting us during these five years,” the note reads. “Hopefully we can find a new spot here in Waxahachie to open again soon.”