BROOKPORT, Ill. -- Michi Ablett thought her new business located on the town's main drag would attract both locals and some of the thousands of commuters traveling daily between Illinois and Kentucky over the Brookport bridge.
However, the unexpected long-term closure of the bridge connecting Brookport and Paducah on May 8 interrupted her plans for Lola's Little Diner.
"I opened at the end of April," Ablett said. "It couldn't have been a worse time to try and open a business."
According to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, what was originally a planned 30-day closure has been extended until approximately Nov. 1. As maintenance and repair work was underway, the contractor and inspectors determined more extensive repairs were needed on several piers.
The bridge, also known as the Irvin Cobb Bridge, carries approximately 5,000 vehicles across the Ohio River each day. Motorists who normally travel the bridge must now use the Interstate 24 Ohio River Bridge.
Both Ablett and Colleen McDermott, a waitress, recognize the situation the bridge's closing puts their customers in.
"It's not that people don't want to support us, it's just an inconvenience," McDermott said. "Most of them that would drive through town are just turning around and going to Metropolis."
Lola's serves traditional daily specials like homemade burgers and fries, spaghetti and meatloaf. On Fridays, Filipino dishes are served in honor of Ablett's heritage.
"Today (Friday) is our busy day," Ablett said. "I'm usually slammed. It's just, day by day, it's getting worse and worse."
On the Paducah side of the bridge, the Smoke Shop at 2300 N. Eighth, is also feeling the pinch.
"It's slowed us down tremendously," store manager Fran Johnson said. "We still have some people from Illinois, but not as much. People don't want to drive on I-24."
The five-to-six month potential closing of the Brookport bridge would be the "longest I can remember during my 15 years with the agency," KYTC spokesman Keith Todd said.
"We're obviously hopeful that the contractor will complete the work in a shorter time span than what we've allowed," Todd said. "When we look at allowances for possible inclement weather and things like that, we think (the timeline) is pretty reasonable. However, we are optimistic that they could get completed earlier."
The original estimate for the bridge repairs was $183,902. The additional repairs are going to add approximately $400,000 to the project, Todd said.
"It's not convenient, but the bottom line is the time to fix a bridge is when the bridge needs work," he said. "You put it off, you're just asking for more trouble later."
The transportation cabinet is sympathetic to the people who must go out of their way to use the I-24 detour, Todd said.
"We're very much aware," he said. "Particularly for commuters, if you live in downtown Brookport and you work in downtown Paducah, then yes, this is going to be a hardship because of the distance that you now have to drive to get to and from work."
While she is trying to stay positive, Ablett admits she is unsure of the future of her business if the planned repairs go as long as anticipated.
"I don't know (about the future)," she said. "I just got done paying my rent, and the electric, and now I've got another bill that just came in. I don't even know how I'm going to pay it.
"If I had known this was going to happen … I probably would have waited a little bit to open a business."