Things just went from bad to worse for small business owners in the area of the city's $26.5 million Lead and Coal renovation. On Monday, Feb. 21, the city blocked off Yale between Lead and Avenida César Chávez to rehab a storm drain system.
Mark Motsko, spokesperson for the city's Department of Municipal Development, says the Yale construction is "probably only going to go about 30 days" but could last 60. He says the Lead and Coal project [ Newscity, Dec. 23-29] provided a good opportunity for the repairs. "Instead of closing Yale twice, we're just closing it once," he says.
Tearing up Yale is part of an ongoing $2.68 million storm drain rehab that started in June and is being tied to construction on the one-ways.
Since the 18-month Lead and Coal project began on Nov. 8, street closures and a mazelike rerouting of traffic have taken their toll on nearby businesses. Foot traffic has decreased, and potential customers avoid the area. Owners have been forced to cut staff, seek a new location or, in at least one instance, shut down.
Francisco Rodriguez and his family have crafted custom piñatas at Casa de Piñatas (2221 Lead SE) for 14 years. Now he's worried that this might be his last. "It's been a nightmare," he says, "I don't know if I'm going to stay here or close down." While he was making $2,000 to $3,000 a week in December 2009, he says his total for December 2010—right after construction began—was less than $2,000.
But it could be worse. His brother, Filberto "Junior" Rodriguez, closed his clothing store next door, Steppn-2-Style, on Jan. 1. Junior had been operating the shop since fall 2006. With his lease coming to an end, Junior made the decision to close rather than wait for customers to return after the construction.
Like other entrepreneurs in the Lead corridor, he says the welfare of small businesses is not one of the city's priorities. "They don't really care about small businesses," he says. "We just got to go with the flow of whatever's happening ... but it shouldn't be like that."
When the Alibi reported on this issue in December, city reps said that an anti-donation clause in the state constitution prohibits the city from providing financial aid to the suffering businesses.
The Rodriguezes aren't the only ones feeling the strain. Joe Torres, owner of Royalty Kutz (2217 Lead SE), has been cutting hair at his shop for three years. But with walk-ins down an estimated 25 percent since the construction began, Torres is looking to locate elsewhere.
Next door, Mariela Amores and her husband Jose Ramiréz are planning to close their Cricket retail outlet in about a month. Through a translator, Amores points to the the Lead and Coal project as the reason her business is failing. Amores and Ramiréz do not have plans to relocate their store, which has been open since April.
Fatima Tannagda runs a salon a few doors down. After working as a teacher on the Zuni Pueblo, she opened the business in September unaware that the roads near her shop would be closed for months. Tannagda says her salon never had a chance to get a foothold, but she doesn’t see giving up as an option. She’s writing a letter that she plans to submit to the City Council. "I am going to fight for what is my right."
Across the way at the Tri-H gas station, owner Ramzi Hijazi may file a lawsuit. After firing two employees due to dwindling sales, he’s thinking it might be his only option. "I hate to say it," he says, "but what are we going to do?" Hijazi has operated the business for 10 years and says the latest road closure will have a big impact on business. "Most of our traffic comes in from Yale," he adds.
A common thread among these business owners is that regular customers have remained faithful, but sales from new customers and walk-ins have all but died. "I want to see the new people," Rodriguez says. "Where is the new people? That's the problem—they don't wanna stop."