Mike Hopper, above, talks about dealing with the closure of the bridge and how business at Mike’s Classic Barbershop has picked up since the reopening while he cuts Ron Kellems’ hair. Ernie Alexander, right, who has worked the counter at Fillin’ Station Liquors for more than 20 years, said the bridge closure was hard on business. The store makes quite a few of its sales from Trimble County residents who live in a dry county. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Mike Hopper, above, talks about dealing with the closure of the bridge and how business at Mike’s Classic Barbershop has picked up since the reopening while he cuts Ron Kellems’ hair. Ernie Alexander, right, who has worked the counter at Fillin’ Station Liquors for more than 20 years, said the bridge closure was hard on business. The store makes quite a few of its sales from Trimble County residents who live in a dry county. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Motorists weren't the only ones excited to see the bridge reopen to traffic and ease commuting issues between Indiana and Kentucky nearly two weeks ago - business owners welcomed the return of their regular customers.

Several businesses near the Madison-Milton Bridge saw an immediate decline in customers after the emergency closure rerouted traffic in mid-March.

While most business owners had been preparing for the expected five-day closure, no one expected the month-long absence of traffic.

Some Milton businesses near the river, such as Riverside Produce, began closing early or altered their hours during the closure. Owner Kenny McCoy said nearly 85 percent of the store's customers come from Indiana.

"It hurt business, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been," McCoy said.

McCoy had been preparing for the five-day closure and planned to reduce store hours. He just didn't make plans to reduce the hours for several weeks.

The closure might have been longer than expected for the slide, Riverside Produce owner Patty Jackson said, but it was still much better than the two-year closure originally expected.

While the situation wasn't ideal for travelers or businesses, it could have been much longer with even worse consequences, McCoy said.

"The way I look at it, we were really lucky," McCoy said. "We've got some loyal customers that drove clear around."

Since the bridge reopened, business has nearly returned to normal. Riverside Produce also has the added bonus of quite a few people from out-of-town coming to see the completed engineering feat.

"Everything is picking back up," McCoy said. "I think it will continue to pick up."

Yet not every business on the Kentucky side of the river saw the immediate increase in customers. Milton's Subway restaurant hasn't seen a major difference in customer traffic since the bridge reopened, employee Michael Clark said.

While more customers might stop by during the day, customers coming by in the afternoons and evenings seem about the same, he said. One noticeable difference has been the loss of Walsh Construction crews that frequented the business throughout the project.

"Maybe we traded the bridge workers for our regular customers," Clark said.

Although most Madison businesses didn't alter hours during the bridge closure, several felt the impact.

Ernie Alexander, an employee of Fillin' Station Liquors, said that the store has seen ebbs and flows through the years - but the bridge closure definitely took a toll on business.

"It was like a ghost town at night," Alexander said.

The store, which faces the bridge approach, had very few customers after 8 p.m. but continued to stay open until the usual 11 p.m. on weekdays.

Alexander, who has worked at the store for almost 30 years, estimated about half of the customers come from Trimble County ­- a dry county.

Diverting traffic to temporary piers affected the store's business a little, he said, but regular Kentucky customers still visited.

Most Kentucky customers didn't stop by at all during the closure ­- even if they took the detour around, he said. The extra money was needed for gas to make the extended drive.

Mike Hopper, owner of Mike's Classic Barbershop on Mulberry Street, also saw a decrease in customers during the closure. He estimated nearly 30 to 40 percent of his customers live in Kentucky and cross the bridge for a cut.

Hopper noticed after the bridge reopened he wasn't the only one missing the bridge access. Quite a few customers went without a cut while waiting for the connection to reopen.

"There were a lot of shaggy people," he said.

But business went back to normal soon after the "Road Closed" signs were taken down. About 10 of Hopper's usual Kentucky customers returned the first day the bridge reopened.

"It was amazing the difference in just the first day," he said.