Construction woes in Kingfield

Businesses facing tough times due to I-35W construction

When Terre Thomas saw road construction start at the Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street intersection about a year ago, she said she was mortified — concerned for the livelihood of businesses that had construction at their doors.

Today, her own business, Fairy Godmother, is sandwiched between the I-35W and Lyndale Avenue construction projects, and Thomas is planning a crusade to garner support for area businesses in the same situation. 

The construction on I-35W has closed both the 46th and 50th street bridges, severely re-routed traffic, and hit some businesses hard in the Kingfield neighborhood and surrounding areas.

Sales at the Bruegger’s Bagels on the corner of 46th and Nicollet have dropped 30 percent since the bridge at 46th Street closed.

“People want to stop, but they can’t,” said Patty Uffery, general manager of the store. “It takes me almost a half hour to take Nicollet down to Diamond Lake Road. That used to be five minutes.”

The downturn has prompted Bruegger’s to stop giving donations to local community groups such as the Kingfield Neighborhood Association.

Kitty corner from Brueggers, Steve’s Tire and Auto has suffered a 70 percent loss in fuel sales, and has had to rely on their auto servicing to get by. “Service sales aren’t down so bad since we are a neighborhood business and get the same customers,” auto worker Tim Sandlin said.

Longtime Kingfield resident Caylen Larson has noticed the change in traffic patterns and is worried about local businesses, such as Steve’s Tire and Auto.

“I hate to see community businesses struggle — they’re part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” he said.

Though multiple businesses are struggling, some have been reluctant to reach out for help. Matt Perry, president of the Nicollet East Harriet Business Association, said he has been in communication with many business owners in the area and has “not heard anything” about hurting sales. That might be attributed to businesses wanting to maintain a positive atmosphere, he said. “That’s just good business sense,” he said.

But some businesses are speaking out and saying they’d like to see more support, such as some sort of financial assistance.

Thomas is attempting to be proactive about the problem. She recently started organizing her campaign to get area residents to shop locally. The effort is called “Shop Local: It Matters.”

“The goal is to get all the neighborhood associations to sign up for it. Get buttons out … and bumper stickers for people to put on their cars,” Thomas said.

She sees the effect Lyndale and I-35W construction is having on the community and said area residents need to practice “intentional shopping” to support the local businesses that are flailing under the weight of road reconstruction.

Thomas said she’s been delayed in her efforts because of work associated with her own business, but her vision includes the development of a steering committee and a kickoff event, “I was hoping [to host it] at the road construction site,” she said.

Most Kingfield businesses are doing their best to make it through construction season, but the BP on the corner of 46th & Nicollet has locked its doors and put bags over its gas pumps. The station has not moved any of its outdoor stock but remains silent.

Representatives from the store and BP headquarters could not be reached for comment. Steve Johnston, owner of Steve’s Tire and Auto just across the street, said he has not heard anything from the manager of the BP, but suspects they “have suspended operations.”

The Crosstown reconstruction project is expected to wrap by December 2010. The 46th Street bridge over I-35W will be closed until next summer and reconstruction work on Lyndale between 38th and 50th streets will continue throughout the summer.