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Posted on Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

Fourth Avenue businesses feeling the bite of summer road construction

By Janet Miller

Business owners along Fourth Avenue between East Huron and Liberty streets in downtown Ann Arbor are waiting for the dust to settle.


While the sidewalks along this two-block stretch have been open to pedestrians who don’t mind clouds of construction dust and the constant din of construction, the street has been closed since mid-May.

But its not the noise or dirt that's really bothering people, Brad Stark, general manager of Transition Rack bike shop says more than anything, it's been murder on business.

It’s a relatively new location for the store, and walk-ins from foot traffic have dried up, he said. “The weekends are the worst,” Stark said. “Usually, Sundays are our best days. There was one Sunday (since construction began) where we had just two or three customers...and timing couldn’t have been worse, summer is the busy season."

It’s also making it difficult for current customers to make their way to the store, Stark said many come with broken bikes needing to be carried for blocks, and many just think the store is closed during construction, he said.

Stark said now, they’ve turned to social media to spread the word they are open — from running ads on Yelp to offering discounts on bike-tuning, Still, they’re seen a 25 to 30 percent drop in business since mid-May.

But not all of the businesses are feeling the pinch. Traffic at Bandito’s Mexican Café has seen only a slight dip of 5 to 10 percent this summer, said owner Ken Singh. Regular customers aren’t deterred by the lack of nearby parking or the construction mess. “People know we’re here,” he said.

While the original goal was to have the $742,000-project complete in two months, that didn’t happen. The road opened for the 2013 annual Ann Arbor Art Fair but closed again July 22 to complete the restoration of brick pavers, adjust structures, place the final layer of asphalt and place pavement markings, city officials said. The new target date to reopen is early next week, according to city officials.

Sottini’s Sub Shop has been hit hard. While lunch traffic has remained steady, evenings and weekends have nearly flat-lined, said co-owner Nash Farha. Business since construction began has gone down between 30 to 40 percent, he said. “We might as well have closed down on Saturdays.”

There’s no place for customers who want to slip in and pick up their orders to park, Farha said. Until Fourth Avenue was closed, customers and the shop’s delivery cars could pull their cars into the adjacent alley while they rushed in. That can’t happen now.

Sottini’s has passed out flyers to try and drum up business, Farha said, but that hasn’t made up for the loss. And while the city erected a sign announcing the businesses were open during construction, it didn’t list the business names, Farha said. Only his regulars know he’s there. Pedestrians passing the sign wouldn’t know a sub shop was there, he said.

Art Fair week gave most of the businesses a brief reprieve.

“We were smiling for four or five days,” Farha said. “But then we were back to our sad faces.”

Jamie Agnew, co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s, which sells new and used mystery, detection and true crime books, was bracing for the worst but was pleasantly surprised when he saw business fell only 5 percent.

“It wasn’t as bad as I feared,” Agnew said. “We’re established and I think our customers have made an effort to support us during a difficult time.”

He was hesitant, especially at first. The second week after the road was closed, traffic inside the store dropped. While summer usually is the bookstore’s busiest time, late May was more like February, the slowest time, Agnew said. “I think it took awhile for people to figure out we were still here.”

Farha said Sottini’s can endure a few more days of sales slowed by construction, but anything beyond that would make him worry, he said.

“We’ll recover. We’re not going out of business. But if you tell me it’s going to be another 60 days, then we’d be in trouble.”


John Hritz

Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 6:48 p.m.

This is a nationwide problem. Franchises tend to survive loss of business due to access problems better than unique local stores. The new subway line in New York is similar. The businesses face an assessment based on the improved access provided by the new tracks, but the loss of business during the construction isn't considered. Tax abatements. Temporary parking. Reduced cost short term parking. Matched advertising grants. All of these would preserve local flavor. It would seem that the DDA should consider these during construction and streetscape upgrades.


Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 11:43 a.m.

The worst part? peds can't jaywalk. Now that's an impediment!


Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 4 p.m.

Why would we need to? The roads are closed; no need to wait for a signal to cross - correct? THE HORROR.


Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

The horror. The horror.


Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 11:24 a.m.

Why are so many A2 projects over schedule? Is this the same construction company that did the Library Lot? Or that paved Geddes? I do very much want to know this. I also don't know whey they have so much closed; aren't they only doing one block, and they have 2 perpendicular streets closed while they're doing it, and it looks like a lot of it is just to park construction workers' vehicles. We saw a lot of cars and trucks parked in the middle of the closed sections of streets. They could probably have at least one of those streets open if the construction workers parked in the structures., has this company done A2 road work before, and if so when and what projects?


Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

They are doing two blocks, not one. And the work entailed installing new water mains, installing a water retention system and redoing many of the water hookups to adjoining buildings. For almost the entire time of this project, the full width of the street has been actively under construction. Even now, post-fair, the work being done would seem to make it impossible to open part of the road.


Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

I'm not sure how pre-construction meetings would have answered any of his insightful questions. Pre-construction the plan was for it to be done by Art Fair. Once again the project is over. The question didn't seem to ask was WHY? The original poorly conceived idea was to have it going northbound (making 5th a complete mess to turn on as predicted) yet it certainly has seemed that for a good amount of the time it has been completely shut off. Instead recycles an article from the parking garage construction rather than asking government tough questions, or any questions.