light rail construction driving businesses out of business across the valley!

and this government idiot Ruben Landa from Valley Metro Rail trys to take away the blame from the government by saying "Light rail is not going to be the reason that businesses close, there are just endless reasons"

Light-rail work digging into sales at Valley stores Businesses feel pinch in 1st stage of construction

Erica Sagon The Arizona Republic Mar. 7, 2006 12:00 AM

From construction machines that shake chandeliers inside Hinkley's Lighting Factory on Central Avenue to the shrinking lunch crowd at Thai Rama on Camelback Road, the impact of light-rail work is roaring through Valley businesses.

Roughly 3,600 businesses will be affected by the construction of the 20-mile starter track that will connect Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa starting in late 2008.

Some owners are optimistic that they'll be able to offset short-term hits to their businesses when the completed light rail brings around new customers and more sales. Others are planning exit strategies, fearing that the construction will doom their businesses by keeping away customers.

Dozens of programs are out there to help both camps, according to city and light-rail officials, and some may be underused.

"I'm surprised that more businesses have not taken us up on the programs," said Maria Hyatt, special projects administrator for Phoenix and a liaison between the city and Valley Metro Rail.

About 280 businesses accept Valley Metro Rail's MetroMax card, which aims to drive up traffic at merchants along the light-rail route by offering discounts to customers. Also, 230 businesses have been given signs and banners to alert customers that their businesses are open during construction.

More than 100 businesses have sought free assistance from consultants and honors students from Arizona State University, who advise businesses about topics including advertising and marketing. Those programs are offered exclusively to Phoenix businesses.

In Tempe, some independently owned small businesses have access to $20,000 lines of credit. Of the 140 businesses that qualify, one-quarter of them have inquired about the program, said Dan Henderson, an economic development specialist with the City of Tempe.

Chane Chantharangfee, manager of Thai Rama, said he is working with a business consultant, via a City of Phoenix program, to create a Web site for his customers that shows traffic routes that avoid construction.

The restaurant's lunch crowd has dropped by as much as 50 percent because people want to avoid the hassles of driving through construction, Chantharangfee said.

"I don't want to close this place and walk away," he said. "But am I going to last two years or not? I'm suffering right now."

Extended construction

Ruben Landa, a business outreach coordinator for Valley Metro Rail, said that the construction effects are amplified because work can go on up to two years in front of some businesses. That is much longer than a routine road-construction project.

"They're dealing with one of the biggest problems that comes with construction: access issues," Landa said.

Business owners from major cities that have light-rail systems spoke here in January, painting a sometimes-dismal picture of survival during light-rail construction in their metropolitan areas. The group, hosted by the Valley Forward Association, a non-profit group that focuses on quality-of-life and environmental issues, urged metropolitan Phoenix business owners who operate in the path of light rail to tough it out.

Down the street from Thai Rama, Langert Netzband Jewelers is having a liquidation sale in case the business needs to close temporarily when construction reaches the northern side of the street.

"When (construction) starts, we don't know what the repercussions will be as far as people coming in," owner Peter Netzband said. "People might just decide (they're) not going to go down Camelback (Road) for another year."

He said he could close the jewelry store for a month or more but not permanently. Netzband said honors students from ASU have pointed out ways that he could strengthen his business.

He plans to make physical changes to the aging building when light-rail construction is nearly finished.

Netzband said he hopes the jewelry store won't go the way of a nearby Chinese restaurant on Camelback that closed, supposedly because the owners didn't want to deal with the construction.

A 'last straw'

No data are available to track business openings and closings along the light-rail route.

Landa said light rail is easy to blame for businesses that decide to close their doors, but usually it is the "last straw" for businesses that already are in trouble.

"Light rail is not going to be the reason that businesses close," Landa said. "There are just endless reasons some of these businesses may go over."

David Johnson, owner of Watson's Flowers near the Tempe/Mesa line, said that he has prevented sales from slipping by sending direct-mail advertisements to customers, luring them to the flower shop, situated in front of ever-changing lanes of traffic on Main Street.

"Some days most lanes are restricted, and some days none," Johnson said. "We're really afraid as construction progresses that people will find it more and more difficult (to access the store). We've been advertising heavily to our old customers to remind them that we're still here."

To buffer financial losses at Hinkley's Lighting Factory on Central Avenue in Phoenix, owner Michael Jackson opened a second store in Scottsdale.

The Phoenix store has lost some visibility and six key parking spaces at the storefront as the area now is a construction zone, blocked off by a short concrete wall.

A large banner draped across the storefront lets customers know it's open during construction, and the company soon will be a part of the MetroMax card program.

He has seen 10 percent to 20 percent fewer customers come through the doors, and he says he'll be more immune to the construction than other businesses because Hinkley's is a destination retailer.

City support

Meanwhile, Fez, a new restaurant that opened late last year on Central Avenue, is benefiting from a steady stream of customers who are curious about the business. Owner Tom Jetland is worried that customers will avoid Central Avenue's traffic snarls - and Fez - when the newness wears off.

Today, Jetland is pleased with the business-assistance programs available, from free consultants to the MetroMax card program to signs pointing customers to Fez.

He also is encouraged by public officials, including Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Attorney General Terry Goddard, who have patronized the restaurant during construction.

"Phoenix has really stepped up to the plate," Jetland said. "What else can they do, other than having a person standing there, waving people in."

Reach the reporter at

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