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Concession Street shops try to hold on through construction

The experience of total road construction on Concession Street has been mixed for the business owners there.

'It's like a three-month compact recession for businesses': Shop owner on Concession Street

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      A multi-million dollar major road, water and sidewalk construction project on Concession Street is complicating the already big challenges of running a brick-and-mortar business at a time when consumers have many options. 

      But the experience has been mixed for the business owners there.

      Some report no big impact — even that the city is rallying around them. They're using online coupons and social media to remind people they're still open. And the construction workers are checking to see the best times to do tasks like turn off the water. 

      "There's a perception that the construction makes things more difficult than they actually are," said Jamie McHardy, a realtor and CFO of a planning firm on the street. 

      McHardy, the vice-chairman of the street's Business Improvement Association, said some of the response has felt like "We're getting a big hug from our city." 

      'A three-month compact recession'

      But others say it's been rough. 

      Chris Mifsud said he's putting up a 12-foot banner on his business this week, advertising he's still open even though Concession is closed to cars right in front of his store. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
      Chris Mifsud's remote control vehicle and supplies shop, Chris's House, remains open while the street from Wentworth to Wellington is completely torn up and closed to through traffic during the first phase. 

      "It's like a three-month compact recession for businesses," he said. 

      His business has been neutral, he said, buoyed by the niche shoppers who drive in from an hour away who don't know about the Concession construction.

      While Mifsud said he prefers the "rip the Band-aid off" method of doing all of these projects at once, it's been an obstacle. He's putting up a banner this week announcing he's still open. 

      A block away, by about 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon, Gabby Chavez said she'd seen only a handful of people come into her vintage furniture and clothing shop, Flow Lifestyle.

      On a regular Saturday before construction, she might've seen 20-30 people who would grab a coffee and stroll the street, she said.

      "It's like a bomb went off out there because of the stigma (of construction)," she said.

      Chavez owned a shoe store in Toronto that was walloped by construction on Eglinton years ago, she said.

      She said selling vintage paint online is helping her stay afloat for now.

      But if the next phase of construction hits her foot traffic any more, "I'm going to have to close my door and get another job," she said. "This type of business is a traffic business." 

      'People will come'

      Maya Retreat spa owner Sheny Rodriguez, left, plays salsa music through speakers on the stoop of her salon. Anthonia Poyotte, right, said the street's businesses have helped each other cope. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
      A few doors away, Sheny Rodriguez bumps salsa music from a stereo perched on her stoop. Her Maya Retreat Salon and Spa is weathering the construction all right, she said. 

      An unflappable optimist, Rodriguez said the detours are adding some much-needed excitement and change of perspective for her clients. She said some of her hair clients come in gushing about the beautiful houses they've discovered for the first time by taking side streets.

      At Linseed's Boutique, owner Debbie Kitchen said she'd had visits Saturday from shoppers who drove there from Dundas, Ancaster and elsewhere in Hamilton. Their support nearly brought her to tears, she said.

      "They said they were going to make the trip no matter what," she said. 

      The challenge from construction has inspired her to redouble her efforts to keep her facade looking fresh, to hold sales and even to deliver items to customers personally. 

      "I just believe that if we work hard at it, people will come," said Kitchen, whose shop celebrates its sixth anniversary this week. 

      'We've got to make sure they can survive this'

      Leo Santos and Jamie McHardy are chair and vice-chair of the Concession Street BIA. They say Hamilton has embraced the street's businesses even amid construction. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
      Leo Santos, proprietor of Papa Leo's restaurant and chairman of the BIA, said he doesn't want to portray that "we're in desperation."

      "The end result of what is happening is so positive for our street," Santos said. There is a light at the end of the tunnel." 

      The project includes upgrading the water mains and fully reconstructing the street with new curbs, sidewalks and urban braille. The street will have better pedestrian features such as two crossing signal buttons and crosswalks. The first phase, happening now from Upper Wellington to Upper Wentworth, is expected to last until September. The next phase runs from Upper Wentworth to East 25th from September through December. And the third phase is from East 25th to Upper Sherman.  

      Coun. Scott Duvall, whose ward includes Concession Street, has made two public pleas in city council meetings for Hamiltonians to shop on the street. He said the city should remember these impacts as it goes forward with plans for LRT, which could have similar impacts on businesses along the King-Main corridor during construction.

      "This has been planned, but at the same time we've got to make sure they can survive this little bit of pain for the long-term gain," he said. 

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