As the Central Corridor light rail-transit line construction continues, small businesses along University and Washington Avenues have been deeply impacted, business owners and community leaders said at a November 23 gathering at Rondo Community Outreach Library in St. Paul. Around 30 organizers and community leaders gathered at the Organizer Roundtable sponsored by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability to discuss the challenges of small businesses and strategies to help the businesses survive setbacks from the construction.
Business owners along the CCLRT line don’t get the right information on the exact number of days the project would impact their businesses, said Chris Ferguson, president and CEO of Bywater Business Solution.
“We’re on our 192nd day of having roads completely closed in front of our business,” Ferguson said at Wednesday’s Organizer Roundtable meeting. “Everybody around this table and everybody in the mayor’s office, St. Paul or Minneapolis, all thought that business would only be impacted for 150 days. That hasn’t been the case … We would have done things differently if we would have known the long period of time.”
A number of sections on University and Washington Avenues have been completely or partially closed, preventing cars and customers from coming to nearby businesses.
Cody Swede, a recent University of St. Thomas graduate, opened a hot dog joint at 614 Washington Avenue three months ago. The street in front of Hot Diggity Dog is completely closed.
“If someone is coming from, say, St. Paul over here to Minneapolis to get just their food, they might choose not to,” Swede said, “Simply, because there is no where to park and the extra ramps are closed often. It’s really very confusing to get around here.”
Because of the road closures, “some of these businesses have lost about 40 or 50 percent of their business revenue,” Ferguson said. “If you’re losing 40 percent, usually you’re losing a 100 percent of your personal income and maybe a 150 percent. So now, you’re putting back into the business. So a 40 percent drop in business is much more dramatic when you look at the bottom line.”
Community leaders and business owners shared ideas about strategies and resources.
Pangia Vang, a small business consultant with Neighborhood Development Center said she meets with business owners to offer help with their needs, including marketing strategies or financial assistance. Her clients are owners of business that range from restaurants to hair salons to beauty supplies.
It’s a different way to let the owners know that “we’re here to support them — anything that can help with causes and expenses,” Vang said. “We’ve matching grants to help with that, whether it’s printing or production.”
Executive director of Asian Economic Development Association, Va-Megn Thoj, said Asian business owners don’t often communicate with each other and with the neighborhood residents. But in order to develop their business performance, Thoj said his association is working on bringing them together and making sure their voices are heard.
“We work hard at advocating and meeting the elected officials and the Met Council,” Thoj said. “For the first time, a lot of businesses sat in front their elected officials, which [was] very effective.”
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.