Blue Line Rail Construction Hurting Some Businesses
Many business owners in the University City area say they are hurting because of construction underway for the Charlotte Area Transit System’s Lynx Blue Line extension. Some proprietors say since rail work began in 2013, their profits have been down because of frequent road closures and traffic pattern changes.
Along North Tryon Street in University City bull dozers and cranes drone away, day and sometimes at night, to complete the Blue Line extension.
“I don’t think there’s a road you can go on in University City that doesn’t have an orange barrel on it and that has made getting around in University City more challenging,” said Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners.
The group doesn’t track how many businesses have closed but Heater knows a lot are suffering. The off and on again road closures have made it difficult for people to get to businesses in the corridor. Tee Brooks says sales are down at the Red Door lingerie store in the Terraces at University Place shopping center.
“It’s terrible, just terrible,” Brooks said. “Nobody wants to come in here. They close the roads every few days. There used to be turns into the center from the other side so now you can’t go in without going all the way up and around, so it’s bad.”
She’s right. Those driving north on Tryon have to bypass the shopping center because the left turn into the shopping is blocked due to the construction. At the next light at Mallard Creek Church Road, drivers have to make a U-turn to get back to the shopping center’s entrance.
People complain, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. For several months, a nearby section of North Tryon was closed in both directions, and business owners said customers did not know how to get to the shopping center.
At the Caribbean Hut, a Jamaican cuisine restaurant, the manager says that closure and current construction hit his lunch business so hard that he had to cut some employees’ hours.
“Business has been very slow. A lot of our regular customers we haven’t seen them for a while,” he said. “Some of them used to come every day but they say the road construction is hideous for them and a lot don’t come for lunch anymore.”
But he understands. He says people can’t risk being late getting back to work.
Other restaurants in the corridor are experiencing the same thing. Only one table is occupied at lunch at Ciro’s this particular day. Owner Art Cornielle wishes he could close for lunch until the construction is completed but that would violate his lease.
“We’re doing less than half of what we normally do in lunch business,” Cornielle said. “People don’t have time. They have an hour for lunch and if they get caught up in this area traffic, they don’t come. It’s one of those shots in the dark. We don’t know if they will come or not, so that’s been a problem for us.”
Rail construction is directly across from Auliah Salon and Spa. Owner Dee Colbert has been at this location for 17 years. She says at times her customers had to loop around North Tryon for about a mile to get to her when her entrance was blocked.
“We lost a lot of clientele because of the construction, even ones I had for 20 years, they went elsewhere,” Colbert said. “Fifty percent of the business was hurt by this construction. Employees left. I lost four stylists. They didn’t want to deal with the construction. I’m gonna try and wait it out and see what happens. I got a lot of sweat and tears in here.”
The city did pay for additional signage to help business but that didn’t make the construction any less inconvenient.
Some business owners along North Tryon say they have not suffered from the rail construction—a couple of tattoo shops, popular chain fast food restaurants and the Wine Vault where Karen Longo is the manager.
“We do have a lot of people coming and complain about the traffic but they still manage to get here which is the important thing,” Longo said.
And although Damien McNeill says the construction has hurt business at the barbershop where he works, he thinks things will get better soon as the work that affects roads winds down.
“We’ve been through the hard part when everything was blocked off, you know. Once all the construction is done, I think everybody will start riding around the way they were and we’ll definitely be jumping again,” McNeil said.
That would be August 2017, when the Blue Line extension is expected to open.