Merchants Concerned About Keesler Gate Closing

Increased security at Keesler is having an impact on businesses near the Air Force base.

Keesler Gate Two, off Judge Sekul Avenue, has been closed to traffic since shortly after the September 11th attack on America.

The gate closing is part of the tighter security measures now in place at military bases around the country. But nearby merchants say the move means a significant loss for their businesses.

The closing of Gate Two has nearly eliminated daily traffic on the west end of Judge Sekul Avenue. And to nearby business owners, fewer cars means fewer customers.

Willie Manning has owned and operated a barber shop near Gate Two for the past 27 years.

"90 percent of my business comes from Keesler. Without Keesler, I'm nothing."

Manning worries about attracting enough customers to keep the bills paid. Business is down significantly since Gate Two closed.

"About 60 percent. About 60 percent of my business dropped off. I have maybe two good days out of a week. And I'm open five days a week," said Manning.

He's not alone.

The customer count has also dropped at a nearby dry cleaners near Gate Two. In all, more than two dozen merchants say the gate closing has hurt business.

Dust gathers on the merchandise at an oriental grocery and gift shop. The owner worries about a disastrous Christmas season.

"We have no traffic. No business coming by. And with the upcoming holidays, we're really going to be hurt hard," said Bob Baucan.

Business owners say they'd be willing to accept a compromise of sorts. They'd like Keesler to at least consider opening a lane of "exit only" traffic. Merchants say that could be enough to help boost their business.

"That would help out tremendously. If they'd just have it open about four or five hours. That would help out a great deal," said Willie Manning.

The merchants are likely to face their concerns for a long time.  A spokesman for Keesler Public Affairs says the plan is to keep Gate Two closed as long as the base remains on a heightened state of security.