It was Monday, and the first business day of the week is usually a brisk day for sales at Leo Marks Jewelrystore on Secor Road, said manager Mike Taweel.
But even though the store at 3435 Secor opened promptly at 10 a.m. like always, Mr. Taweel and his salesmen mostly just stood around without a lot to do.
“We didn’t have a customer until 10:30,” Mr. Taweel said glumly.
Unfortunately, days like this past Monday have been more common than not since early March at Leo Marks and at nearly 50 other businesses along Secor between Monroe Street and Central Avenue since the city of Toledo began a $5.4 million reconstruction of the road.
Most of the businesses along the popular retail corridor report sales drops of 20 to 30 percent since construction began on March 9. At least one business has closed — although indications are it was planning to do so soon anyway — and others are greatly concerned about how their bottom lines will look when the construction is completed around Nov. 1.
Nearly all the Secor business owners say the city has been sensitive to their needs, great at communicating daily progress, and working day and night to speed the project along.
Their collective wish is that customers would recognize that it is possible to get to their businesses. Several are accessible via connecting routes like Executive Parkway, or through parking lots. Some are offering special sales to attract customers.
But most business owners along the torn-up roadway believe that many consumers have taken one look at the mess that is Secor Road, taken note of its frequent backups at morning rush hour, the lunch hour, and the evening commute, and decided they will just avoid the area until November.
“I have quite a few elderly customers and they just don’t want to deal with it,” said Pat Bassett, owner of Bassett’s Health Foods store at 4336 Secor Rd.
Ms. Bassett said her sales have fallen 25 to 30 percent since construction began. But, “I can hang on. I will just make some adjustments,” she said.
She said the reconstruction is needed, but it hurts to know that it might drive some customers to her competitors. “People need to know that if you just allow yourself an extra 15 or 20 minutes, even on the worst days, you can still scoot in here just fine.”
Shain Buerk, owner of Scrambler Marie’s restaurant at 3344 Secor Rd., initially thought customers would cope just fine with the project. “When we first saw the construction begin and the orange barrels come out, we said, ‘Ah, this isn’t really going to affect us that much. We saw only a slight decrease in sales, about 5 percent,” said Mr. Buerk, who owns five other Scrambler Marie’s in the Toledo area.
“But when the lanes were significantly pinched down in the last month or two it has really touched us. Our sales volume is now down as much as 30 percent,” Mr. Buerk said. “I am very thankful that we’re fortunate in that we’re one of 20 stores in our group. While sales have gone down at Secor, our restaurant on Central Avenue has gone up 20 percent.
“We believe we have loyal customers who have just decided they will find another location,” Mr. Buerk said. “But needless to say, on Secor Road our staff sure feels the loss. It hurts them income-wise.” Fewer customers mean fewer tips.
And like Ms. Bassett, Mr. Buerk firmly believes it isn’t that people cannot get to his restaurant. “I think it’s simply because people want to avoid the area,” he said. “It’s a temporary thing, but it’s very painful in the short term.”
Steve Hamilton, hired to be the liaison between the city and the affected owners, said city officials knew before the project began that it had the potential to significantly disrupt or even bankrupt some of the Secor Road businesses. As a result, everything that could be done has been done to minimize the disruption.
“We just want to get the darn thing finished. The contractor [Geddis Paving & Excavating] has a very aggressive schedule,” Mr. Hamilton said.
As is common practice, the contract between the city and Geddis has a penalty clause of $10,000 a day for each day the project goes past the Nov. 1 deadline. But in a somewhat unusual move, it also has a clause giving Geddis a $10,000-a-day bonus if it finishes before Nov. 1, up to 10 percent of the firm’s original bid.
“This early completion incentive isn’t quite as common, but it’s getting more common. It could cost up to a half million dollars, so you’re going to spend it where there’s going to be some definite economic impact,” Mr. Hamilton said. Knowing it stands to get a large bonus, Geddis crews have been working evenings and weekends.
Because of bad weather, the project is about two weeks behind schedule, but Mr. Hamilton thinks that will be reversed when better weather arrives. The biggest part of the project — laying a 12-inch water line that replaces an old 8-inch line on the east side of the road — is nearly done.
Project officials have made every effort to keep open dirt ramps leading into businesses on the road’s east side, and they have signs advising motorists that the entrances are open.
Rush hour is slow
But an obvious problem that occurs around the 8 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. windows are motorists anxious to get through the mess who end up blocking the traffic lights and entry ramps, creating gridlock.
“The maddening thing to a business owner is standing out there and knowing people are not supposed to block an intersection and yet, they are,” said Kevin Lent, owner of Sonic Drive-In at 3225 Secor Rd. “It’s been challenging. It has not been awful. But it will probably get a little bit worse before it gets better. But six months of pain will just make the area that much better.”
Mr. Hamilton said most motorists have gotten used to Secor’s torn-up state by now and know how to navigate it or avoid it. “People who go there all the time know what it’s about, know how to get through it,” he said. “Others have found alternate routes to get to some of the businesses.”
Some customers of Batteries Plus at 3128 Secor Rd., for example, now get to the store a back way by turning into the Westgate Meadows plaza off of Central Avenue, zipping past Vito’s Pizza and around the parking lot past the Fresenius Medical Care dialysis center, until they arrive at Batteries Plus, said store manager Mike Saine.
“Sometimes, you can’t go over the front ramp,” Mr. Saine said. “The city has been great to work with except the last three weeks I had my entrance blocked 15 times.”
The store manager said, “It’s good customers that are coming to see us go the back way or are letting us ship items to them.” Still, he said, customer traffic is down two-thirds and sales are down a little more than 30 percent.
“I do know the street needs to be fixed, the changes need to be made. The question is how can they make this easier for the small business guy like me? Maybe throw me some business so I can least make it through [the project]. ... Everybody’s having a bad time,” Mr. Saine said.
(SUBHEAD HERE)Going the back way
Businesses on the west side of Secor say that customers have told them they avoiding Secor in favor of Executive Parkway, or simply cutting through the parking lot of Sears on Central Avenue and coming from behind Elder-Beerman at 3311 Secor Rd. Using that route, customers are able to access most of the businesses on the west side of Secor without ever driving on Secor.
“With our [Executive Marketplace] plaza you can get to it from Central by either cutting through Sears or using Executive Parkway. You can also get across [Secor] by cutting through on the traffic lights,” said Jeff Nissen, owner of Virtual PCs, at 3550 Secor Rd.
Mr. Nissen said his sales numbers have not dipped at all since the project began. But there are two factors that may be at work, he said.
First, he tells anyone who calls to use Executive Parkway. Second, his biggest competitor, Stone Computer, which was on the west side of the street at 3324 Secor Rd., went out of business three weeks ago.
“With Stone closing, we have taken over their [phone] number and I’m not sure if our sales is part of us picking up their business,” Mr. Nissen said.
Local Stone Computer officials could not be reached for comment, but both Mr. Nissen and Mr. Hamilton said the store may have been contemplating closing before the project began. A salesman at the company’s store in Fort Wayne, Ind., indicated the Secor location had been struggling the last few years.
Sales are down
While Virtual PCs has maintained its sales, the same cannot be said for others businesses along Secor.
At Leo Mark’s, Mr. Taweel figures sales are down 20 percent. A few hundred feet to the north at the Big Boy restaurant at 3537 Secor Rd., sales are also down but Bennett Enterprises, the restaurant’s owner, did not disclose by how much.
At Sonic, Mr. Lent had braced for a 20 percent decline, based on conversations with owners at other locations in town hit by road construction. But his losses have only been 6 or 7 percent, he said. He credits the drive-in’s indirect access from Central Avenue via the Sears and Elder-Beerman parking lots.
But directly across the street where, unlike the Sonic situation, motorists must cross a dug-up Secor using a dirt berm to access businesses. Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken, at 3214 Secor Rd., said it is suffering badly due to the construction project.
Vice President Tanathan Nelson puts the fast-food store’s losses at 30 percent-plus. “We are down over previous years’ sales by six digits and climbing,” Mr. Nelson said.
“Everybody here is frustrated. I’ve got [employees] with less hours because of this,” he said.
Fortunately, the store is one of 33 Popeye’s franchises owned by Milwaukee businessman John Brodersen. As such, there are no plans to close the store, Mr. Nelson said.
But, Mr. Nelson says, "We’re in pain, we’re definitely in pain.”
Behind Mr. Nelson’s store, John Smith, manager of Home Depot at 3200 Secor Rd., has different concerns.
The home improvement store relies on about five deliveries per day by large semi-trucks. Getting them across the torn up section of the road and even being able to turn has been a delicate ballet.
Mr. Hamilton, the city’s liaison, said that luckily, “Home Depot had some leeway on scheduling deliveries. They are not having early morning deliveries and you can actually get into that site from any of five driveways.
“But it’s been a tricky point and we’ll have to wait and see how those trucks will handle those ramps in the next few months,” Mr. Hamilton said.
And Mr. Smith, the store manager, said the deliveries will increase soon. Spring is like Christmas for home improvement stores.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Smith is anxious about whether customers will flock to the store like they normally do.
“We’re just really waiting for spring to hit to see what happens,” Mr. Smith said. “We’ve got a good core of customers and so far people are finding ways to get here. It’s been amazing.
Maggie Stein, manager of the nearby Schoolbelle’s school uniform supply store at 3324 Secor Rd., will be watching to see what happens to Home Depot.
Currently, sales at Schoolbelles are exceedingly slow. But that has nothing to do with construction, Ms. Stein said.
“This time of the year we aren’t busy at all — ever. Our busy time is in the summer, July and August,” she said. “So now we’re just stuck waiting for it to happen. Most of our customers already know there’s a lot of construction going on. We don’t know what will happen later on.”
Amid the anguish and uncertainty is nearly unanimous agreement that the when the project is done, nearly all the businesses will benefit from a reconstructed Secor Road.
Jeff Bankey, owner of Russ’ Auto Wash at 3125 Secor Rd., said, “You go through the bad to get to the good. It’s not always fun, but yeah, it’s going to be very good.”
“It was needed, the place was a mess,” he added.
Mr. Bankey owns a second car wash on Secor at Laskey Road, just a few hundred feet from where a different section of Secor was repaired a year ago. That project took more than a year, he said, and there were days on end when the road was torn up but no construction was taking place.
“That other stretch, they tore up over a mile … and it was mostly residential. This one section, it’s a lot more commercialized,” said Mr. Bankey, who added his sales are down 20 percent at the car wash near Central Avenue.
“The city, they’ve been beyond good. They’ve been working day and night. At Sylvania and Laskey, it was just terrible,” he said. “So yes, it’s affected our business. It’s a pain, but it’s been beautiful. If I had a complaint, I’d tell you.”
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.