Traffic hits local businesses ?? literally

"Nobody's dead or hurt, that's the important thing," said Sam Tekleab, owner of East Harriet's Sam's Food Mart, 910 W. 36th St., staring at his mangled interior.

Amid buried merchandise, rubble and contorted shelving, Tekleab explained that the bus that hit his store was trying to avoid a delivery van that had run a red light.

Seemingly freak accidents like the one at Tekleab's store happen regularly in Southwest, leaving behind costly damages for business owners.

Lightning strikes thrice

Tekleab said he thought it was a joke when an employee called one snowy March night to tell him a city bus had just crashed through his store's Bryant Avenue side.

He didn't believe the news at first, Tekleab said, because two other businesses at the same intersection had suffered crashes in recent years. What were the odds of three?

But as it turns out, the corner of 36th and Bryant has become an epicenter of collisions.

Just across 36th from Tekleab's store, Bobbi Cain, owner of Young's Flowers, 3554 Bryant Ave., survived a car crash, too. On a slippery day last January, Cain said, a driver "was on her cell phone and her S.U.V. ended up through the window."

And across Bryant from the flower shop, Joe Zhou, owner of Kyle's Market, 826 W. 36th St., said that four years ago his wife was working behind the counter facing 36th when a car came very fast into a window near her.

The store windows were cracked and the building's exterior was dented, he said. Although his wife wasn't hurt, Zhou said she was extremely scared. "You would not expect a car driving into the store," he said, "The chances are like you getting hit by lightning" -- even if lightning has struck the intersection thrice.

His wife, Qing Liu, said she saw the car coming and jumped the counter to get out of the way. She said because their register is so close to the front window, she is still terrified that a similar accident will happen again.

The My Lam Restaurant, 3601 Bryant Ave., is the only storefront at the 36th-and-Bryant intersection that has never been hit by a car or bus, said restaurant manager Lam Van Pho. "We're the lucky ones," he said.

Minneapolis Police Lt. Commander Gregory Reinhardt said 36th and Bryant is currently not on the city's list of dangerous intersections, and remains a low priority for his traffic unit.

Reinhardt said in the last two years, he has never received a complaint about the traffic in the area. As a result, Reinhardt said no extra police patrols of traffic-calming efforts have been made in that area.

The effect on business

The proprietors at 36th and Bryant are not alone. Kelly Martinson, owner of Muddy Waters coffee shop, 2401 Lyndale Ave. S., knows Tekleab's situation all too well. In October 2001, a young woman attempted to run a light and hit a brand-new BMW SUV and shoved it into the 24th and Lyndale corner of Martinson's coffee shop.

The crash turned picnic tables into kindling and destroyed the store's windows and front structure.

Like the other crash survivors, Martinson said the unexpected accident and aftermath severely hurt her business, drastically slashing revenues (although she declined to name a specific dollar amount).

Although Muddy Waters only closed for 10 days while cleaning up debris, Martinson's storefront was boarded for many weeks, giving the impression it was still closed, Martinson said. She said damage insurance and $20,000 in loss-of-revenue business insurance was helpful, but her business still hasn't fully recovered.

She said although regulars never strayed and business has been better lately, fear lingered among employees and customers for a while. "Nobody sat in the window seats for a while," Martinson said.

Martinson said she is afraid another accident will occur at her intersection, although there's not much her business can do to prevent it. "There are constant accidents. There needs to be left-turn arrows on both Lyndale sides of the street," she said.

Young's Flowers' accident also resulted in a boarded-up storefront, Cain said, and many of her customers assumed the store was closed. She bought an "Open" sign for the existing window.

Although Cain didn't have to dip into her loss-of-revenue insurance because she stayed open during repairs, she said it is essential to have it. "You have to have it, you just have to," Cain said.

Zhou also suffered while Kyle's Market was covered with plywood. Business was way off during the repairs, although specific figures were not available.

He said he wishes he'd known he could sue the driver for lost sales. He said he was so scared after the accident that he didn't consider the legal option, since building owners' insurance and driver's insurance covered the cost of repairs.

Picking up the pieces

All businesses said when they rebuilt, they just replaced what was broken. Former Southwest resident Patrick Brown, owner of Mutual Service Insurance in Chanhassen, said that's about all you can do because accidents like these are usually so rare.

Brown -- who has many clients in south Minneapolis, including Muddy Waters' Martinson -- said some types of business insurance aren't cheap, but coverage sure helps for business accidents.

He said structural damage to a storefront like Muddy Waters can cost nearly $10,000. Brown said that that a loss-of-business clause written into a policy can supplement revenue lost during repairs.

Brown said coverage costs vary for ndividual businesses. He said that for a shop similar to Muddy Waters, the loss-of-business clause costs $150 a year.

In those types of cases, Brown said the driver who initially caused the accident is at fault financially for the damages. Because of the nature of business, he said he doesn't wait for the at-fault company to pay up, but goes after them later. "Our first priority is to make sure no one's hurt and then of course get the business up and going," he said.

Despite attempts to get businesses quickly back on its feet, Martinson said Muddy Waters' interior repairs are still not complete 18 months later, pointing at the makeshift counter with the cash register.

"I'll be doing paperwork for another year," Martinson said. "(Tekleab) has my sympathy."