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Published: Thursday, 3/29/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Road work rattles West Toledo business owners

Construction keeps customers away from Sylvania Ave. shops

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Lisa Blake, general manager of Phoenix Earth Food Co-op, says the store on West Sylvania Avenue might not survive the two-year construction project, which is scheduled to end by late August. Lisa Blake, general manager of Phoenix Earth Food Co-op, says the store on West Sylvania Avenue might not survive the two-year construction project, which is scheduled to end by late August.
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The pill bottles at Phoenix Earth Food Co-op are pushed to the very front of the shelves.

In one aisle, jars of pasta sauce are clumped together and expose swaths of beige space.

The store was devoid of activity Thursday morning except for one employee stocking produce.

A short walk down the street, Cigar Merchant was empty as well. No one was nestled in the large leather recliners, puffing away on his or her cigar of choice.

The only evidence of life outside the Sylvania Avenue storefronts was the rattle of diesel engines and shouts of city construction workers who are repairing the road.

The project has been point of contention for businesses situated between Hoiles Avenue and Jackman Road since the seasonal construction began in 2010.

The flow of customers has dropped off during construction, and business owners say they're losing money hand over fist. Some, like the cooperative, say they are in danger of closing.

"This is a very small business, and cash has to come in so we can make payroll," said Lisa Blake, manager of the cooperative.

Typically, the store brings in about $2,000 on a good day. When the construction is under way, sales fall as low as $700.

"We can't make it with that kind of decrease in sales," Ms. Blake said.

Robert Morrison rings up a sale for Rachel Parker, left, and Madhaui Raj at the co-op. Store owners are complaining that the city isn’t redirecting traffic for businesses. Robert Morrison rings up a sale for Rachel Parker, left, and Madhaui Raj at the co-op. Store owners are complaining that the city isn’t redirecting traffic for businesses.
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The chief complaint of business owners is that access points to parking lots or street parking are not clearly labeled. Customers don't know where to park, so they don't come in.

Percy Pegues, owner of Cigar Merchant, said he has contacted the city more than 20 times because his customer base disappears during construction.

He said his requests for signs that redirect traffic to parking lots or side streets have been brushed aside.

"I have barely survived the last two years, there is no question about it," he said.

Workers dug a hole more than 10 feet deep directly outside of Mr. Pegues' front door Thursday. Although parking was available in a nearby lot, the orange barrels meant to guide traffic in and out of the lot blended in with the sea of construction-zone materials.

Timothy Grosjean, staff professional engineer at the city, said there is no legal requirement for the city or its contractors to post signs redirecting traffic for businesses. The city has encouraged businesses to make their own signs to inform customers where to park, he said.

"We understand that there is a lot of pain that goes along with the construction of roadways, and there is no other way to build them than the way we are doing it," Mr. Grosjean said. "It's basically be patient, because the customers will come back. There's not much else we can do other than build the road."

The construction has proceeded on schedule and should be finished by late August, Mr. Grosjean said. The work began as a part of a $15 million sewer upgrade, and the road repairs are part of a separate $4 million project to improve the area, he added.

"I'm sure some businesses have told customers different ways to get into their business, and we would encourage businesses to do that," Mr. Grosjean said.

Construction-related problems have affected businesses in other parts of town over the years, but that doesn't help the shop owners along Sylvania Avenue.

Ms. Blake isn't sure Phoenix Earth Food Co-op will survive the construction, even with signs saying the store is open displayed in its large glass windows. The store is scouting two locations where it could relocate even though it doesn't have the money to move.

"We'll try fund-raising," she said. "If people can't help us, it will be the end of the store."

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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