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West Blue Mound Blues

Construction zone hits some businesses harder than others.

Two months into construction, West Blue Mound Road businesses report a range of repercussions – from negligible impact for some to threatening the survival of one family-owned restaurant.

Lisa Wong, manager of the at 11120 W. Blue Mound Rd., said the 11-year-old business is in a fragile state due to the construction chaos. With a 50 percent drop in business since construction began in early June, she said, the restaurant now closes an hour earlier and is struggling to survive.

"We try the best we can. We try in many ways, but it didn't work," Wong said.

The restaurant offered additional specials and advertised more than it ever has. Now, those advertising dollars have dried up, Wong said, along with a sizeable chunk of business. Whether the construction project will pave the way to the family-owned business' demise, Wong said, "We don't want to think about that. That could be a possibility."

Four blocks west of Peony, reported a curiously inexplicable uptick in business. The shop, until recently, has had only one access point since the project got underway in June, via North 116th Street, but somehow people are finding their way.

"It's kind of weird, but once the construction started, we actually got more busy," said Kayla Bruss, an employee at the paint-your-own pottery studio for five years.

"Normally our summers are pretty slow ... so we were surprised," Bruss said. "I just think for whatever reason, people have wanted to paint pottery this summer."

Many motorists steer clear of construction zone

Subway owner Bob Patel has a less glowing report. Patel bought the at 11216 W. Blue Mound three years ago and this summer has cut employee hours as business dwindled by 35 percent to 40 percent over the past two months.

He expects his business will somehow endure the nearly seven-month construction period, if for no other reason, he said, than "I don't have a choice."

The drop in business is not simply that it is more difficult to get to the sandwich shop, Patel said. People who once stopped by on half-hour lunch breaks to grab a sandwich simply don't have enough time to deal with traffic delays and congestion in a major construction zone, he said.

On-street parking in the 16-block construction zone, from North Mayfair Road to North 124th Street, is eliminated. Bright orange barrels, road barriers and directional signs to help people navigate safely through the zone keep changing with each construction phase.

Crossing West Blue Mound is barred, with scattered exceptions, requiring that motorists find their way to businesses through U-turns, side streets and other maneuvers.

, at 11702 W. Blue Mound, lost its westbound access when construction began, which likely has slowed business, said Katy Hoter, assistant manager. The construction season, however, coincides with a typically slow time of year, Hoter said.

"In summer, you have festivals and the State Fair ... so it has been slow," Hoter said. "I'm sure the construction has something to do with it, but it's also summer."

Bigger names, smaller woes

so far is weathering the construction well, with about a 5 percent dip in business, said general manager Angie Stark. Unlike many of the small, independent businesses on West Blue Mound, Rocky Rococo is a corporate location and so has a cushion of financial support beyond West Bluemound.

"Our other locations don't have construction, and they help us through the hard times," Stark said. "Once it's over, we'll go back up again. I'll just be glad when it’s over."

The major construction work is slated to be done by mid-December, although it will be May 2012 before the entire project, with landscaping, is complete, according to the latest update on the city‘s web site

For , at the easternmost edge of the construction project near the North Mayfair Road intersection, it is business as usual, said general manager Jennifer Gotto.

"We're more affected by how the Brewers are doing and the weather, because we have such a nice patio," Gotto said. "If anything, we've been busier."

Gotto said Mo's created flyers for patrons to direct them to side street routes to the pub rather than taking West Blue Mound. The worst problem, she said, has been traffic backing up up on North 108th Place when patrons try to head west onto Blue Mound as rush-hour traffic is moving through the construction zone.

Established clients stay loyal

Two blocks west of Mo's,  at 11107 West Blue Mound, so far has been buoyed by its usual book of summer business, including many regulars, said manager Lynn Gordon. The upcoming third phase of the project, she said, requires closing the south side of West Blue Mound, the side the 31-unit inn is on, which could have a more significant impact on the inn’s access and, in turn, its business.

"We've been happily surprised, to this point," Gordon said. "We're waiting with bated breath ... to see how this next phase is going to affect us.

"The harder it is for people to get to your place, and with traveling on gravel and all that, the less likely that they are going to think, 'Hmmm. Let me try that place.' "

Peony’s Wong cited a similar concern, noting that one recent customer refused to drive his own car to the restaurant.

“We had someone actually drive in a taxi to get here, because they don’t want to ruin their car with the road like that,” Wong said.

The upside at Forty Winks, Gordon said, is that the phase that will most affect business will occur after the inn's busiest season, when festival and State Fair-goers and major league baseball fans are frequent guests. Forty Winks has repeat business travelers and long-term business stays, which always help fill gaps, Gordon said. Such mainstay business will be particularly important in the coming months if potential new guests fail to find the inn or choose not to navigate through a construction zone to find the correct side street to turn onto that will lead to other side streets en route to doubling-back to the inn.

, which sits midway in the construction zone at 11127 W. Blue Mound, also benefits from being a business that relies on regulars, said Sally Miles, who owns the business with her husband, Steve Culver. She said the computer shop has seen only a slight decline in sales since the construction began.

The couple recently extended the shop's Thursday closing time by one hour – until 6 p.m. – for clients who need some breathing room afer work to get through the West Blue Mound and other area construction zones, Miles said.

"Fortunately, for Computer 911, most of our clients are small businesses and we go to them, or we do remote admin, meaning we can be here at our office and log in to their servers," Miles said.

Home computer users can pay extra for a house call, Miles said, but users with a computer emergency in today's high-tech society typically will do whatever it takes to get back online.

"If they have confidence in us and our technicians, they will come," Miles said. "But you have to really be careful. The orange barrels keep moving."

Computer 911 recently added a bright yellow panel above their street front business sign, directing clients to a back parking lot off of North 112th Street. Last summer, Miles and Culver installed a new concrete sidewalk from a rear parking lot to the front door, knowing that this summer street parking would be eliminated and the rear lot would the primary access route to the front door.

Miles said her greatest concern is for neighboring businesses, like Peony, that rely more heavily on walk-in and drive-by customers.

"People who really want to go to a (specific) business will find a way to get there,” Miles said. “Otherwise, people are avoiding" West Blue Mound.

Christine McLaughlin September 03, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Peony is really quite a fine Chinese restaurant. I've never understood why it doesn't do better. But it seems to be in a strip that's a cursed location for restaurants. Pitch's, the Grecian Inn (or was it Village?), all have struggled. Must be something more than traffic involved. I suspect they all need major facelifts. And a few have suffered from sullen wait staff. . .
jbw September 03, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Peony had a large regular lunch crowd eight years ago, but they lost business to the newer pricier places over the years. I know their quality went way downhill a couple of years ago. I loved the lunch special I'd had there of a great sweet and sour chicken with a cup of soup, eggroll, piece of crab rangoon, and an exquisite apricot sauce. When I went there the last time, they instead served me a lunch without the sides and with chicken that resembled the worst cafeteria chicken nuggets. I believe my guest and I called it dogfood at the time. I know these restaurants can go through phases, so they may be serving good food again now, but that might help explain what happened to some of the customers.

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