If you think it's been hard to get around Wauwatosa's under-construction streets lately, it's about to get a lot harder.
West North Avenue will be shut off at North 90th Street from early October until at least early November, with a possibility that the closure could last well into next month – somewhere from four to six weeks all together, the city's contractors estimate.
The best-case scenario is a one-month closing beginning Oct. 8, but avenue business owners are worried that any slowups could lead to the longer closing scenario and reach into the start of holiday shopping around Thanksgiving.
Ald. Jeff Roznowski and Mayor Kathy Ehley met Monday morning with a group of business owners with whom they have been communicating information about to discuss the closing.
- The closing is tentatively scheduled to start Oct. 8 and last four to six weeks;
- Contractors will attempt to finish and open the currently closed section of Menomonee River Parkway from North Avenue to 90th Street before closing North;
- The detour for North Avenue traffic around the closure will be across West Center Street between North 76th Street and Swan Boulevard/92nd Street;
- At the outset of the closure and for perhaps a week or two, one lane of eastbound traffic might remain open or open intermittently; and,
- There is a possibility that, if it were to become clear the closing would stretch much beyond Nov. 12, the job could be buttoned up and the street reopened that day, with the work to be completed in the spring.
A North Avenue closing was in the cards, sometime. There is no way to get from Meinecke Avenue to the Menomonee River without digging a massive trench across North.
And though it was inevitable – and avenue business people are well aware that it is – it is still discomforting to them to be a month away from the likely closing date and still have so many caveats and uncertainties about the full timeline.
All North Avenue businesses will be open and accessible from the east during construction.
Those interviewed said they would have to shrug off any difficulties imposed under the best of circumstances – a project that starts on time and finishes as quickly as possible.
But they are worried that any departures from that picture could disrupt what many businesses, perhaps a majority, rely on as the most important period of the year.
will spend to avoid loss
Rick Laev, owner of at 8930 W. North Ave. – tucked close to the closure and far from the eastern detour point – said that he appreciated that the city had reached out, and his strategy will be to promote his business like crazy to keep people coming.
"I think the communication has been good," Laev said. "Both Jeff (Ald. Roznowski) and the mayor did a beautiful job, conveying every step of the way. Some of the timetables are out of their control, including the Oct. 8 tentative date of actually closing off North Avenue.
"The big struggle myself and all the other business owners – our concern – is that (the city) didn't understand that half of November and all of December are potentially the most important part of everybody's business for the year.
"Some of the businesses that attended the meeting said they did 80 percent of their business for the entire year in those two months – why couldn't the timing have been different?
"November is our second-biggest month of the year, after December. The second the meeting ended, I thought, 'We've got to spend a tremendous amount of money in marketing to combat it, that's the only way I know to bring people in the door.'
"Because the way they're routing people from the west is to cut over to Center Street, across to 76th, back down to North, and then they'll have to come back here to 89th and North – but we thank God we've got a lot of loyal customers who are willing to make that drive.
"The other side of the coin, though, is, it's completely out of people like myself's hands. They've got a task to do, they're trying to better the community, and for me to sit hear and complain about it – I've accepted it, and now, I've got to make big plans on how to promote the business.
"But Ray's truly is a destination. We have all seven counties, we have a tremendous amount of out-of-state customers, and I really have to step up our promotions through media and advertising to draw people in on this extremely critical time of our business year.
"We've just got to be aggressive in our marketing plans."
Why you want to keep coming to
"We're the No. 1 wine shop in the state," Laev said.
"It's the huge selection. We have over 10,000 wines, 2,000 spirits, over 1,000 beers. We have 25 employees on staff, which is unheard of in Wisconsin. We're a full-service to-the-max wine and liquor store, and it's all about friendly employees, friendly customers.
"The point of difference is customer service – because you can get Jack Daniels anywhere.
"Our point of difference is friendly customer service, a nice-looking store, we play great music in the store – it's just a fun place to visit.
"We call it Ray's Hobby Shop. And everybody likes working here – including myself."
relies on exclusivity
Steve Datz, owner of , 8837 W. North Ave., isn't too worried about the street shutdown, even though close to half his business comes toward the holiday season.
"I was notified about a month ago, the earlier part of August, that there was going to be a meeting," Datz said. "Certain businesses had questions, I had a couple of questions. There were some questions asked that others didn't think about, so it was very informative.
"I'm glad we had that, and they said that there would be possibly another meeting if we requested it, just before the actual excavation of the street.
"We're a month from it, and they don't know exactly how far they're going to get, they might even get to it sooner, and that would be better for the businesses.
"The whole project was started back in June, so in a way I wish they would have started it prior to that, two or three months before that, because then we'd be probably at the end of it now.
"I wish that they would have thought a little bit further ahead for the businesses, especially going into fourth quarter, knowing that's the Christmas season.
"It could go to Thanksgiving. They're figuring about four to six weeks, depending on weather. I don't think it's going to affect me that much, to be honest with you.
"I think people are used to detours. There's a lot of construction going on in a lot of places in Milwaukee. For us, it's not going to be as much of an issue as, say, or , for delivery trucks coming in and out. It could be more of an inconvenience for them.
"But we're a destination, so people, even if they're rerouted, I think they'll still get to our store. I'm not all that concerned. I'm a little concerned because it is fourth quarter.
"Fourth quarter is, traditionally – the Christmas season is our biggest time of the year, and I certainly hope that people won't be distracted and not come here because of the detour.
"It's probably a good 40 percent (of annual business) for us, 40 to 50 percent. It's a big time for us."
Why you want to keep coming to
"We're the exclusive dealer for the products we sell in southeast Wisconsin," Datz said. "No one else sells those products, the piano brands that we have. If there's a certain brand that you're looking for, and it's the brand that we sell, it's really the only outlet – so, they'll have to come here for that.
"Anyone looking for a Yamaha piano, we're southeastern Wisconsin's authorized Yamaha piano dealer. We offer Milwaukee's largest selection of sheet music – no one has a better selection of that – and of course Netzow's has been in business since 1885, and we are Wisconsin's oldest and one of America's oldest piano dealers still in existance.
"This is our 127th year in business. So, we ask you to come to Netzow's. Get your 88 keys at 88th and North Avenue."
says, 'Let us entertain you'
Kevan Oberdorf, store director at , 8616 W. North Ave., knows that every season is a big season in the grocery business, but the high holidays are the biggest.
"I don't know if I can gauge what the effect will be," Oberdorf said. "There's so much entertaining. I think most of our customers are going to find a way to get here.
"We're going to take a hit, but we're going to be all right. We do see peaks around the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
"Anyone in retail, even in the service industries, relies on the holiday season as a major part of their annual sales.
"I was a little surprised the detour was going to be so far east. It seems like construction has been ahead of schedule, so I'm hopeful. Starting with those months, November and December, traffic backs up already.
"We're lucky in that we have a strong year-round base. I think about Locker's, John's Sandwich Shop, smaller businesses like that. They're probably going to suffer more than we are.
"It's one thing to be in the middle of it, yes, but it probably goes beyond that. Mayfair Mall, in early December, that's almost off the books."
Why you want to keep coming to
"We have a great selection, especially our fresh produce and specialty items," Oberdorf said. "People come to us for that.
"We have plenty of regular, loyal customers, but we know there are people who say, 'I'm entertaining – I got my stuff at Sendik's.'"