Small Business Owners Strained by Light Rail Construction

Published: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 5:18pm
Updated: Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 8:02am
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Kathy Ritchie/KJZZ
Light rail construction on 19th Avenue.
(Kathy Ritchie/ KJZZ News)
Signs let patrons know businesses are open.

The issue of how we get around is something that affects almost everyone in the Valley. We live in the sixth-largest city and we’re growing. So is the congestion. While it’s one thing to talk about alternative forms of transportation, it’s another thing to watch what happens when a project gets the green light, like extending the light rail.

In the next segment of our transportation series, some businesses say they’re paying the price for progress, 3.2 miles of progress to be exact.  

If you drive along 19th Avenue between Bethany Home Road and Dunlap, you know what a mess it is.

Bright, orange and white barricades line sections of the road. The road veers from one side to the other with cones and traffic panels serving as dividers. "Keep Left" and "Keep Right" signs at some major intersections help guide traffic into the proverbial gantlet. There are a lot of moving parts on this stretch of road, and all of it is due to Valley Metro’s Northwest Expansion of the Light Rail.

Unfortunately for some businesses, there’s still at least another year to go before construction wraps.

"It’s not good at all, it’s not good," said Boris Baybachayev, who owns B’s Barber Shop on 19th and Northern. "It’s drained out a lot of business; a lot of business from the shops. We came down from five employees to two."

He said since construction started in January 2013, business has been down about 60 percent.

"Everybody got an hour break for lunch or something like that, nobody’s got 45 minutes to waste on traffic and 15 minute haircut, where’s the lunch?" Baybachayev said.

Baybachayev said he and his neighbors are trying to hang in there, but even when the light rail starts rolling, he isn’t confident he’ll see a payoff. 

"I don’t think it's going to help my business and I don’t think it’s going to get better, think its going to get back to what it used to be," he said.

Patrice Dwyer is another light rail skeptic.

"I don’t know, I didn’t see where it did anything on Camelback," Dwyer said. "A lot of those businesses are still closed."

Dwyer owns Shamrock Shoe Repair on Glendale, just a few blocks west of 19th Avenue. Even though she’s not front and center, she said the construction is hurting her bottom line.

"Business is down, probably 75 percent," she said.

Both Dwyer and Baybachayev are owners of mom and pop shops. You’ve probably never heard of them. Unlike Bookman’s, a well-known bookstore on 19th and Northern.

"I feel like we’ve had amazingly good business despite some of the traffic obstacles that we’ve had outside," said Katy Spratt with Bookman’s Phoenix.

Spratt admits they’ve seen a dip in business due to construction, but nothing like what Dwyer and Baybachayev have experienced. Spratt also said Bookman’s has had a positive experience working with Valley Metro, the City of Phoenix and the light rail contractor. Neither Dwyer nor Baybachayev can say the same.

"They try to reach out and say ok, we’ll help," Baybachayev said. "How are they helping? They’re like, 'We’ll give you a designer but you pay for your own prints.' How am I supposed to pay for my own prints if you drain business out of here?"

"We really tried to set the expectation that this was going to be a challenging time," said Susan Tierney with Valley Metro.

As a result, Tierney said Valley Metro partnered with other organizations including the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Local First Arizona to provide businesses with planning and business resources. But... 

"If an individual business wants to create their own flyer or special flyer, the individual would be responsible for the cost of reprinting or printing materials that support their individual business," Tierney said.

While Tierney is realistic about the price of progress, she said Valley Metro has done everything it can to ease the burden.

"There is definitely going to be a shift in business in light rail corridor," she said. "We saw that in the first 20 miles, but we’ve also seen the positive side of that. The economic development, the residences that have been built."

With the holiday season here, Valley Metro is trying to make life a little easier for the businesses. They’ve temporarily halted construction at the major intersections. Teirney said the move should help shoppers access the stores lining 19th Avenue. As for the business owners, they’ll just have to wait and see.

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