Fashion started as a hobby for Sara Lowery, but it wound up being a second career.
Showtime by Sara owner Sara Lowery shows a blouse to a customer. Lowery and other business owners will have to close their shops or relocate because the building is in the path of the planned expansion of River Watch Parkway.
phot by J. Scott Trubey
Now, because of plans by the Georgia Department of Transportation, the owner of Showtime by Sara Fashion Boutique and former interior designer from Atlanta faces the prospect of that career ending.
For years, Lowery said, she had heard about the state's plans to alleviate congestion by extending River Watch Parkway to intersect Washington Road at Towne Center Drive.
In order for that to happen, the state will have to continue River Watch through Old Petersburg Road and connect the thoroughfare with Washington Road, through the middle of the retail strip housing Lowery's store and two other businesses.
"We've been hearing this for so many years we had given up (thinking the expansion would happen)," Lowery said. She said she thought, "Well, it'll be 10 years down the road."
The women's clothing, jewelry and accessories store, which Lowery meticulously decorated and painted, has been in the building a decade. She said plans for River Watch have been talked about for at least as long.
"It's progress, I guess," said Paul Davis, who owns the building and whose business, Southern Realty, is a tenant.
He said he was contacted by the DOT a few months ago, but has not received an offer for the 2.71-acre property.
"Basically, DOT is putting me out of business," Lowery said.
In the fashion industry, merchandise is purchased months in advance, she said. It wouldn't make sense for her to buy clothes for next year's seasons knowing she'd be forced to move the inventory to another location that likely would be smaller, more expensive to rent and in a less-desirable location, she said.
"I do not have a choice but to start a store-closing sale," she said. "I am definitely not relocating."
The time and expense of moving - likely a month and possibly several hundred thousand dollars, she said - will force her to close when her inventory sells out. That could happen between late October and the end of the year.
She said she has considered starting an Internet-based clothing company or perhaps a fashion outlet store, but operating only four days a week as she does, she said many shopping centers will not be receptive.
Next door, AllState Insurance agent Tom Vaught is unsure what his company will do. The DOT told him he will probably have to move by year's end from the office he has rented since 1989.
"If I'm forced to leave Columbia County, it's because ... office space in Columbia County, especially in Evans, is at a premium," he said.
Vaught hopes to have property he owns along Hereford Farm Road rezoned commercial, but has been battling the Columbia County Planning Commission, because, he said, the county considers his property ineligible for rezoning, according to the new development master plan.
Davis also is unsure what to do about the state's plans. He said the state's offer will determine whether he relocates or retires.
According to the Columbia County Web site, the 30-year-old building and the property is worth $831,109.
"We're still in the process of purchasing right-of-way for the project," said Scott Stevens, the Augusta area engineer for the DOT. He did not have updated figures on how many parcels of land along the right-of-way have yet to be purchased. In July, the DOT said 13 percent of the 283 parcels along the right-of-way were acquired.
"Based on current funding right now, we're expecting a notice for bids (for construction) in March 2007," Stevens said.
Parcels already bought by DOT include Jamaica Court neighborhood north of Washington Road, now largely abandoned.
The 2.5-mile project, expected to cost $33 million, will take two years to complete once construction begins, according to the DOT.
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