Businesses prepare for Lake Street revamp

At about this time next year, heavy machinery, hard-hat shod workers, orange cones and construction signs will become part of the scene on Lake Street during road reconstruction between Dupont and Blaisdell.

Lake from 36th to West River Parkway and Lyndale between 29th and 31st will also be busy with construction next year.

Traffic will be reduced to one lane each way and parking on Lake Street will be temporarily unavailable, but businesses will be open and trying hard to stay that way.

Fewer customers during construction combined with soaring property tax increases and yet-to-come assessments for the new road have business owners preparing for a tough year.

&#8220I have my doubts as to my ability to survive all that,” said Kim Bartmann, manager of Bryant-Lake Bowl, whose property taxes have spiked 87 percent since last year.

Many businesses waiting for the Lake Street construction to reach them have been carefully monitoring the project's progress in other areas. The $25 million revamp, the street's first in 50 years, began east of I-35 last May.

Though most businesses are looking forward to a more attractive and efficient Lake Street, some in the construction zones have had a hard time weathering the project, said Joyce Wisdom, executive director of the Lake Street Council.

One of the hard-hit businesses was Roberts Shoes at 740 East Lake. The store survived Lake Street construction last year and work to Chicago Avenue the year before.

&#8220It was a difficult time to be in business,” said Mark Simon, the store's owner. &#8220We basically lost all parking within a three-block radius.”

Because handicapped and elderly customers had difficulty getting to the store during construction, Roberts Shoes started catering to a younger crowd, showcasing what Simon calls &#8220hot shoes” more often than traditional walking shoes.

Simon said he's happy with the way the construction and streetscaping, or placement of lights, benches and other fixtures, has turned out so far; and business is beginning to improve. His property taxes have doubled since last year and he will soon face street assessment costs, but Simon said his family-owned store is not in danger of going out of business.

He offers a tip for businesses that have yet to experience construction.

&#8220Try to imagine the worst-case scenario and react now,” he said. &#8220Now is the time to do it.”

Jenny Pritchett, co-founder of Smitten Kitten at 3010 Lyndale, said she is already working on expanding her store's website so she can do more business online during construction. But she doesn't anticipate a big drop in store customers because people often drive long distances to visit, she said.

Pritchett said Lyndale and Lake are in need of a face-lift, and she's looking forward to the finished product.

&#8220I think that change is always hard, but in the end, we're going to have a better, more functional Lake Street,” she said.

John Meegan, owner of Top Shelf at 3040 Lyndale, said he plans to send letters to his customers informing them of the best way to get to his store. He also wants to make sure they know that he's open and his hours will stay the same.

Meegan has made a point of supporting businesses in construction areas, including Roberts Shoes.

&#8220I had to drive around for blocks to find a spot to park,” he said. &#8220It definitely took a long time, and I had my elderly father with me. It was terrible.”

Todd Ferrara, owner of Standard Heating and Air Conditioning at 410 W. Lake St., said he is waiting to speak with county officials about developing a plan for the 20 or so trucks that load and unload equipment at his shop each day.

Wisdom said county project managers will work with Ferrara and other affected businesses to develop plans for continued operation. Wisdom also meets regularly with local business associations and is planning educational meetings to teach businesses how to use online resources, take out lines of credit or use other tactics to stay healthy financially.

The Minneapolis Consortium of Community Developers is offering low-interest loans to businesses that need them, she said.

To help get the word out that it's business as usual along Lake Street, Wisdom said banners encouraging people to shop locally will hang in construction areas.

&#8220We want people to continue going to their favorite places on Lake Street,” she said.

If that place is Bryant-Lake Bowl, Bartmann said the lanes will be open.

For more information on the Lake Street reconstruction, go to www.lakestreet.info.

Jake Weyer can be reached at [email protected] and 612-436-4367.