The center in Hasselt needed a complete overhaul. The paving had to go, the underlying sewage and other pipes such as those of the water mains were all replaced with new ones. A very big job and months of inconvenience for all parties involved. Especially for local residents and shopkeepers.
Removing the street stones went pretty fast. A start was made by hand and then the stones were removed by machine. The digging crew made its way down a dirt road throughout the street, albeit divided into steps. This included removing and replacing sewer pipes and renewing water pipes.
Fortunately, the work began on our side of the street and we could soon see the first signs of restoration. Once everything was under a layer of sand again, they could start laying the pavement in front of our store again.
By now it was known that changes would also take place. This was already evident during the construction of the street around the corner. Each building got its own sidewalk, all different in height and some with concrete posts.
For people with reduced mobility, it was a complete disaster. Even my own mother fell close by on one of those sidewalks and broke her pinky finger. We also regularly had to help elderly people get back on their feet. People in wheelchairs had to cross the road in the middle where bicyclists and cars also rode. To this day it is still not wheelchair friendly, unfortunately.
We were very curious to see what kind of sidewalk we would get ourselves in front of. We found that out very quickly when the first deliveries of the pavers were on the market. Red toned bricks and soft yellow ones. But no gray and concrete edging for those “beautiful sidewalks. Even the concrete posts stayed away. Would they do things differently with us then?
The thoroughfare was built first. Then the space in front of our building was filled with bricks. The red and yellow stones were placed in two piles in front of the middle of our building and this is how the work began.
Since it would take some time, we left the man who was going to lay the sidewalk alone. Without disruptive conversations it would be finished faster. Toward evening, we still thought it would be a good idea to take a look. Just before they would stop we stepped out our front door, the main entrance to our store. The paving was done and we looked around happily. ‘It’s going really nicely that way!’ He nodded with satisfaction. ‘Just a question, why do you use two colors of stone?’
The man looked around and then said, “The red is paving and the yellow is paving too, only those are the parking spaces for the cars. We looked around again and what appeared, he had put a parking space right in front of our door that afternoon, 20 centimeters away from our front door.
‘You are joking, I presume?’ ‘This parking space, as you just named it, is right in front of our entrance’. The man nodded and responded with ’that is how it is on the drawing’. Then he said nothing more, presumably because he did not feel like arguing and walked away in the direction where he had parked his car.
So the parking lot he had laid out was right in front of our entrance, that couldn’t be true! All alarm bells went off with us and it was time for action. All the men inside our shop were gathered and together we started working on the solution. The next morning, the man who had laid the stones in front of our door stood head scratching looking at the floor.
“What happened here? He asked us. ‘Oh, we solved our problem last night. That drawing must be a mistake. So we removed the stones and piled them neatly there in the square. We thought that was a good idea and also the opportunity for a new start where the parking lot is not in front of the door. He looked at us in amazement and then exclaimed “But, that’s just not possible!”. We simultaneously nodded ‘Oh yes we can’.
Barking, he ran to the construction site further down the street only to return with his supervisor. All was ready and the discussion could begin. It was a fierce discussion in which there was a lot of shouting and grumbling about the stones that had been removed. But one thing was certain: there would never be that parking lot right in front of our door. It was not only prohibited, but also very customer unfriendly and it would block access to our store if a car were to park there.
In desperation, the supervisor of the municipality was called in. He too started talking about the drawing and the plans and that everything should be made that way. But he too recognized how determined we were to prevent that. Indeed, he was a customer of ours and how would he still get in if there was a car there. To demonstrate, we parked our own car right in front of the door and challenged the gentlemen to come in without making a scratch.
They finally understood the problem and so it was decided to adjust the drawing and move the parking lot to the left. Still 20 centimeters in front of the storefront next to our front door, but no longer right in front of our entrance. When we asked if we would also get two bollards to stop people from parking in front of our door, the response was ‘No’. We had to place them ourselves after receiving permission from the municipality. This was quickly solved with a billboard.
There was also a protest from the municipality, but after establishing the right to a sidewalk in front of your building it soon became clear that they would have to adjust even more and so the billboard could remain and we had free access to our building again.
As a small business owner, you sometimes feel quite powerless against such trivial circumstances. But “it’s on the drawing and that’s how it should be done” we had it adjusted anyway and so the man was able to get on with laying the street again without grumbling.
The next day, at our invitation, he came in for a cup of coffee and a cookie. He sat down in our kitchen and asked again, ‘How many times would you have repeated that joke of removing the stones?’
‘What do you think?’