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Merchants bemoan Highway 1 detour

  • Signs mark the detour around the slide on Highway 1 north of Jenner on Tuesday, December 18, 2012.

    (Jeff Kan Lee/ The Press Democrat)

The kitchen and dining areas of Bill La Feber's Ocean Cove Bar & Grill are deadly silent these days, and have been since a storm Dec. 5 closed Highway 1 nearby.

Beyond the usual wintertime drop in business, the restaurant has been hit hard by news of the indefinite closure of the coastal route between Jenner and Fort Ross.

For La Feber and other business owners who rely during the off-season on the casual weekend explorer, the problem is not the detour but rather the misconception that there is no convenient access to the coastal communities in the area.

"It's amazing how dramatic the drop in business has been," La Feber said. "I've had to reduce hours on both waitress and cooking staff."

Tim Aikens, manager of La Feber's adjoining Ocean Cove Lodge, blames the paltry customer traffic on the many "Road Closed" signs put up by Caltrans. He said potential visitors are under the impression that the detour is not worth the trouble.

"If they keep putting out reports that the road is closed, we're going to die on the vine," Aikens said.

Joel Crockett, owner of Four-Eyed Frog Books in Gualala, expressed similar concerns. Crockett said his bookstore gets customers from all over the country, but mostly people from Sacramento and the East Bay who drive up the coast.

December is his busiest month, he said, and he fears that by the time people understand the detour is not so bad, it will be too late.

"I hope they realize that today or tomorrow and not January 15, when the season is behind us and we go into doldrums," he said.

Highway 1 was closed two weeks ago after heavy rains damaged a 500-foot section of the road between Fort Ross and Meyers Grade roads. The rain washed out a sizable portion of the earth that supports the roadway.

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