Beaufort's downtown shopping district was abuzz Tuesday morning with the sounds of heavy machinery grinding up the asphalt on Bay Street between Charles and Carteret streets.
Work began about 7 a.m., and the road was closed to vehicles. While few pedestrians were around in the morning, post-Labor Day customers with shopping bags hanging from their arms, and others on their way to lunch began appearing later.
Tuesday was the start of 24-hour-a-day, federally funded paving by the S.C. Department of Transportation. Four days are scheduled for the work on Bay Street, though state officials said they want to have the three commercial blocks re-paved within two days.
Crews will then re-pave up to Hamar Street, closing one lane of traffic at a time. All the work is scheduled to be completed by Friday. Representatives for contractor APAC Inc. said Tuesday afternoon they were on schedule.
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Paving began Tuesday night, and striping was expected to begin Wednesday morning.
When Monkey's Uncle toy and book store co-owner Joe O'Brien asked about the possibility of Bay Street reopening to traffic by Wednesday afternoon, APAC representatives said it was possible.
The paving was originally scheduled for the week before Labor Day, but some merchants and residents balked, fearing construction could spill over into the holiday weekend and hurt business.
Anticipating slow business, five stores on Bay Street were closed Tuesday for the construction, said LaNelle Fabian, executive director of Main Street Beaufort, USA. Some took vacations, while others, such as Saltus River Grill, performed renovations, she said.
"You have to remember, it's the day after Labor Day weekend, so you don't know how much (business) we would have gotten anyway," she said.
However, representatives of some businesses that stayed open, such as Deals and Lulu Burgess, said they had either good or better-than-expected sales.
Sally Cameron of Tybee Island, Ga., brought three of her friends down for a day of antique and consignment shopping. Cameron said they probably wouldn't have come if they had known about the construction.
"Everybody might as well just shut down and go on vacation," said her friend Leslie Fassler of Cincinnati.
But there were some bright spots.
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce held a "paving party" Tuesday afternoon at the intersection of West and Bay streets offering cookies and lemonade to passersby.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.