It survived the ups and downs of the economy over 37 years, and three floods, but the pottery store of ceramic artist John Shedd in Rocky Hill could not outlast the closure of the Route 518 bridge.
“They were supposed to finish it in a month, and we’ve been six months with no income and the same bills,” Shedd said. “Street traffic was about 60 percent of my business, and this is not a huge profit margin endeavor.”
Shedd said he is moving the store to a yet-to-be-finalized location in Hopewell because of the disruption the closure has caused to his business.
John Shedd Designs is situated 500 feet from the canal bridge, which carries Washington Street over the Delaware and Raritan Canal on the outskirts of Rocky Hill. In June the state Department of Transportation began construction on the bridge to make structural repairs and fully closed it to traffic the following month. Two days later, on July 8, all work stopped on the bridge due to a political standoff in Trenton over the depleted Transportation Trust Fund. (U.S. 1, August 24, 2016.)
Shedd says his studio was stuck behind the “bridge closed” barricades, making it hard for potential customers to reach the store. Detour streets are jammed with traffic during rush hour, further discouraging visitors. Work resumed on the bridge in November, but it is still not complete, and Shedd says he lost most of the holiday business that his shop depends on. “It’s a shame,” he said. “Rocky Hill has been very good to me.”
Shedd, who grew up in Illinois, where his father was a mechanical engineer, opened his gallery in 1979 to showcase his creations, which range from mugs and dinnerware to elaborate murals. He has designed pottery for local hotels as well as restaurants like Mistral, Elements, and Tre Piani. (U.S. 1, December 17, 2014.) The studio has survived three major floods at its current location. The worst came after a storm in 2007, when the D&R Canal overspilled its banks and flooded the gallery, leaving a coating of mud behind as the waters receded. Shedd said he suffered a further indignity when, while shoveling the muck out of his business, a state agent came in and gave him a citation because his propane tank had overturned.
Shedd said he was insured for two of those floods, and while reconstruction was challenging, it wasn’t insurmountable. Shedd mostly runs the business by himself but sometimes hires seasonal workers for the holidays. He has had to cut back on hired help this year because of the construction.
The state government’s handling of the closure also angered Shedd. He said the governor was unfairly dismissive of residents’ concerns about the project. In September, when three local mayors held a rush-hour protest at the bridge, asking the state to declare the project “essential” so construction could move forward, Governor Chris Christie told reporters “I could care less what Democratic mayors think about a bridge.”
Shedd said all the problems could have been avoided if the state had planned the closure better and not begun work until the project was fully funded. “If you’re not gonna finish it, jeez, don’t start it.”