Downtown businesses are, for the most part, reporting resilience in regards to the road construction on DeMers Avenue.
“You know, we’re not really feeling any impact only because we’re a destination. We have clients that set up appointments with us; we don’t have a lot of walk in traffic here,” said Rochelle Pierson, showroom manager at Waterfront Kitchen and Bath, located on the corner of DeMers Avenue and South Third Street. “We thought our No. 1 complaint would be parking, and that hasn’t been an issue.”
The construction project, a rebuilding of DeMers Avenue from North Sixth Street to the Sorlie Memorial Bridge, will entail new storm sewers, street lighting, pavement and pavement markings. The construction project, announced more than a year ago, has caused concern among business owners as to how it would affect foot traffic and parking downtown.
Peirson noted that employees have given up their reserved parking spaces and are parking elsewhere in order to make it easier for their clients.
“The only thing that I’m a little concerned about is that we’ve had some heaving of the pavers (due to road construction) ... so it’s a little hard for older people who are coming in,” said Pierson, who noted that no significant drop in business has been “a pleasant surprise.”
Jason Honkola, day manager of Bonzer’s Sandwich Pub, located downtown on DeMers, said business hadn’t dropped off so much because of the skywalk and the fact that Bonzer’s has a back door and parking.
“During the day, we get a lot of regulars. A lot of the same people,” said Honkola, pointing out that there are other factors involved, such as UND being out for the summer.
Other businesses haven’t reported such a positive outlook.
“It’s affecting us a lot, actually,” said Nutdanai Nongnuang, manager of Thai Hot, found next door to Bonzer’s. “We usually close on Monday, and now we close on Monday and Tuesday. This past month has been really rough for us.
“I feel like if the customers know us, they still come in and eat, but for newer customers, if they can’t see it, they don’t know where we are at,” Nongnuang said.
The notion of a destination business seems to play a large role in determining whether or not a business is affected.
“We kind of are a destination location as well. We provide a service you’re not getting anywhere else, so if you need jewelry repaired, you’re driving here,” said River City Jeweler’s owner Mike Zhorela.
Jake Peterson, owner of Impact Nutrition also located on DeMers, doesn’t think that business has dropped much.
“Honestly, it hasn’t been as bad as we were thinking. It’s actually been on par as last summer. Pretty close to it anyway,” he said. “We’ve probably lost a little bit just because it’s sometimes hard to find a parking spot. We’ve done a good job with keeping our regular customers.”
“One thing that was beneficial for us was that we knew this was coming. We had about one year of prep basically for it,” said Blue Webber, of the Downtown Development Association. “Obviously anytime you close off a road and do some re-routing, it’s going to be difficult.”
Parking is a concern for some downtown businesses, with a general perception that there isn’t enough.
“I think parking has always been a discussion point, I’ll just put it at that,” chuckled Webber. “We just finished a parking study earlier this year that said we use less than 50 percent of our parking downtown.”
Webber also noted that even with losing the 24 parking spaces on DeMers, that doesn’t add up to 50 percent.
“I think we don’t have a parking problem; we have a parking perception problem,” Webber said. “There’s a parking lot down by the river that has 428 spots that are vacant at all times, unless you go down there on a Saturday when the Boathouse (the Boathouse on the Red) is poppin', usually it’s completely empty. The distance from that parking lot to, let’s say, Badman Design, is less distance than it would be to park at Target and go buy your milk.”
Joan Ryan Mangino, executive assistant at Strata Corp., the company doing the DeMers construction, noted that the project has fallen behind due to CenturyLink, an internet service provider, not yet completing some of its work. The expected finish date of Nov. 15 has remained unchanged.
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