Published: Jul 16, 2010 1:04 AM EDT
Updated: Jul 15, 2010 5:52 PM EDT

"Oh it is terrible.  This place is like a ghost town."

That's how one business owner describes the commerce in LaBelle, since crews shut down the highway 29 bridge over the Caloosahatchee River earlier this month.

Crews have posted warning signs on nearby highways, and merchants say, vacationers and others are just by-passing the town, instead of driving through and spending money.

"Last Saturday, we did not have one sale, not one," said Louise Perkins of the Country Peddler Antique store near the bridge.   "That really hurts.   We are going to have trouble paying the mortgage if this keeps up."

The manager at Flora and Ella's Restaurant agrees.  Deb Klemmer says business has dropped 50 percent this July, compared to a year ago.   "We have so few customers, we are having to close early some nights.    We are cutting hours for workers and just holding on.    We've been here 77  years, but this summer is a real challenge," she told WINK News.

The owner of the Forrey Grill has much the same story:    dinner business is down 70 percent this month, compared to a year ago.   "I have had to lay off some people and cut hours for other workers.   It is very heart-breaking to have to do that, but I have to stay in business and make the numbers work," said Barbara Grigg-Bailey.

Deb Klemmer says she'd like to sue the state Dept. of Transportation for lost business, much as companies in the Panhandle of Florida are suing British Petroleum over the oil disaster in the Gulf.   "I'd love to do it, but I suspect it would not fly, but it's a thought," she said with a chuckle.

The DOT says the work should be done on August 8th, and the bridge will re-open to traffic.