Dinkytown stores ride out road project

by Laurie Kemp

When Dinkytown business owners learned their neighborhood’s main thoroughfares would be ripped up in a massive construction project, they worried about loss of customers in the area.
But for most, the hype has far outstripped the actual effect.
“I was even scared to come to work,” said Jim Picard, owner of Fast Eddie’s Shoe Repair and manager of the Dinkydale Arcade. “It wasn’t bad at all.”
The first stage of the construction began in February and involves reconstructing the bridges at University and 14th avenues. This phase of construction is expected to be completed Oct. 31. The second stage of construction will begin in early 1997 and include the reconstruction of the railroad bridge at the intersection of Fourth Street and 15th Avenue.
A few businesses have left the area since construction began, but the departures weren’t related to the construction.
Mainline Travel vacated its office space in the Dinkydale Arcade early this year because of a decision to downsize, Picard said.
Musicland, a subsidiary of the Musicland Group located in the same building, closed its doors a month ago. The corporation is closing its free-standing stores to focus on opening new Media Play stores, Picard said. Musicland’s lease on the property runs through 1999. Picard expects the company to sublet the space.
Some of the businesses in Dinkytown have noticed a slight downturn in customer counts since construction, but they blame the decrease on the weather.
“Most of the businesses tell me it’s the weather,” Picard said. “I know that’s the case with me.” Business would be better, he said, if the temperature had warmed up two months ago. Dinkytown survives on foot traffic, and as long as there is a pathway to the stores, customers will come, he said.
Some of the businesses in the area prepared for the worst when construction started.
“We wanted to be proactive,” against the threat of losing customers, said Stuart Sundqvist, the manager of Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery. Bruegger’s launched a campaign to attract customers by lowering coffee prices during construction. “We expected the worst, but we weren’t really affected by it.”
Construction might be slowing traffic, but it hasn’t deterred a new business from entering Dinkytown. Kismet Unknown, featuring gifts from India and other countries, is opening today in Dinkydale.
“We’re optimistic, so that’s why were moving in,” said Liz Thukral, one of the owners of the shop. The store was located at St. Anthony Main but moved because of the lack of traffic, she said.
But not all the businesses are weathering the construction well. Pizza Hut, located on University Avenue next to the bridge, has been rendered virtually inaccessible to traffic.
“We’ve been quiet, especially in the evenings,” said Pizza Hut Manager Tom Grubba. “We don’t have the exposure of people driving by and the traffic from the sporting events.”
Business has been cut in half, Grubba said, but it is difficult to determine exactly how much the construction has affected it. The decline might have been worse had Pizza Hut not introduced its stuffed-crust pizza last year. The product has helped sales through deliveries and the daytime buffet, which are still doing well, he said.
Grubba said he has thought of placing a flashing sign on Fourth Street to draw attention to the business. Pizza Hut can still be reached from an alley off Fourth Street and also from 13th and University avenues.
When University Avenue is completely closed later in the project, Grubba said, the county might build a road through the front lawn of Pizza Hut so there will still be access to the business from 13th Avenue.
Dinkytown News has also noticed the effect of the construction.
“Business is bad, no doubt,” said Indra Patel, the owner of Dinkytown News. Patel, who had just moved his business next to The Purple Onion Cafe from the corner of 14th and University avenues, has once again moved. Dinkytown News has taken the storefront next door to its old location so that The Purple Onion can expand into the newly vacant space.
Patel said his business has been cut in half and attributes the loss not only to construction but the weather and his new location.
“Once construction is over, I should be able to bring in more business,” Patel said.