STARKE, FL -- Norman's Produce Market on U.S. 301 has been selling strawberries, local honey, and fresh veggies since 1989. Owner Sandra Norman says this strawberry season was awful.
She says her sales between January and April were down $54,000.
That's a loss of 50% of her profits in their most important selling season.
She blames half the loss on weather. Too cold in January. Too wet in May.
But she blames $25,000 of the loss on the construction project on U.S. 301. The Florida Department of Transportation calls it the Starke Truck Route project. It's a 7.3 mile bypass, set to be complete in fall 2019.
Norman says the state has concrete barriers right in front of her produce market. Drivers going north can turn in, and drivers going south just zip by because there's no gap in the barriers.
"They could have made it better if they fixed us a decent turn lane," she says in frustration. Norman says she's not satisfied with the U-turn option 900 feet south of her business either.
"People are scared. They look in the rear view mirror with that big semi on their behind," she says. She says the U-turn option is not good.
FDOT spokesman Troy Roberts, though, says the barriers are for safety reasons.
He sent this statement to FCN: "At this location, FDOT construction and our contractors have been in touch with the business owners since the start of the project and have responded in various ways to limit impacts to their business. This includes additional signage notifying motorists of the business location and adding a turn from a new access road on U.S. 301 that was not originally in the plans."
Roberts says once the project is complete, an estimated 25,000 vehicles will travel the four-lane truck route designed to relieve congestion on 301 between County Road 227 and CR 233 on the Western side of Starke.
Norman pleads for people to please not forget about their produce market. Even if it's hard to stop in, they need your business.
FCN checked with Pam Whittle, President of the Chamber, and she says, yes, there's concern about the bypass among businesses in Starke. She says the C of C is encouraging business owners to get their names, menu items, specials and locations out on social media and Google maps.
Whittle says the new truck route is "going to happen," and so the key is to be proactive now to keep up business profits.