“It was like being in a cage with the roads fenced off and my customers couldn’t get parked to get to me.”
Clothing designer Ms Withall of Sam Brown Clothing in the west end is just one person who rues the day the trams project ever came to Edinburgh.
She says the tram works forced her out of business altogether, until she set up a scaled-down business elsewhere.
Altogether, traders say the project has cost them hundreds of millions of pounds and now, ironically, many of the worst-hit shops may never see a single customer brought to their door by the service.
The pot of cash for the project has almost run dry, and the country’s First Minister has publicly doubted it will be completed.
The latest forecast is that the line will end at Haymarket, well short of the original target, if more money cannot be found.
It will mean many firms which have suffered most will not see any direct benefit.
Problems started after Edinburgh City Council’s project leaders Tie began closing streets to prepare gas and water pipes and electricity cables, and lay tracks.
Tie and the council have now been locked in a legal dispute with contractors for two years, almost stopping progress.
A report due at the end of this month will suggest how to progress, but no timetable for resuming work has been finalised. There is an estimated £100 mil-lion funding gap and if they do go ahead, the trams are not expected before 2014.
Traders say the network of Georgian streets in the city’s west end were almost unnavigable at the height of the work. It is thought £100m was lost in that area alone.
Michael Apter, of Paper Tiger in Stafford Street and chairman of the West End Association, said: “It will certainly have cost Edinburgh’s businesses hundreds of millions of pounds.
“Many businesses that have folded are small and we may never know exactly how much it has cost the city – not least in reputation.”
Footfall for Shandwick Place, a key spot, dipped at some points in 2009 by 48% compared to 2008, equating to tens of thousands fewer potential customers. On-street parking dropped by 10%.
Mr Apter said: “It’s not just retail, it is hospitality and leisure that are also losing out if people are not coming into the city. If you put all of these factors together they all point towards a significant loss of business to the city.
“We need a full public inquiry into the trams.”
Ms Withall has now reopened in William Street. She said: “I could have survived either the trams or the economic downturn, but not both.”
Alan Rudland of Arkay Imaging, who helped set up the Leith Business Association so traders could collectively tackle tram chiefs, had to lay off staff.
He said: “There have been difficult financial times but looking carefully at it most people believed it was the tram works that have done the most damage.”
After Alex Salmond said he believed the trams would “come to nothing” amid new funding fears, Gordon Burgess, former Leith Business Association chairman, said firms there never wanted the trams but there was a “carry on regardless” attitude from project managers.
The owner of the Bed Shop said: “I have seen recessions before, but I lost 50% of my business and I know it was down to the trams. ”
Alan Myerthall, whose family have owned the Pipe Shop in Leith Walk for 50 years, said: “It has already cost us our business. The trams not coming to Leith is the best thing that could happen.”
Originally costed at £375m and due to run from Leith to Edinburgh Airport, the trams will now cost £545m and more if the line is to make it beyond Haymarket.
Any hopes of the Scottish Government giving more cash to the project appear to have been dashed by the SNP election triumph.
A spokesman for Tie said: “There have been many different and localised support measures put in place in recognition of the disruption that businesses and retailers have suffered during construction … with hindsight, our communication at that time could have been much better.”
He added: “All parties concerned in the mediation process are intent on finding a resolution which will provide absolute clarity on when the project can be delivered.”