How Dundas shops are impacted by flex street construction

Construction between Richmond and Ridout Streets began on Tuesday, blocking the stretch off to road goers and forcing buses to reroute temporarily. The first leg of what’s pegged as Dundas Place is expected to be completed in October.
Dundas Street is closed between Richmond and Ridout Streets for the construction of Dundas Place. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

What does orange fencing and heavy drilling in the core mean for its merchants?

Many don't know yet — but they're optimistic for the end result.

A construction crew is setting up shop along Dundas Street for the next few months up until October to make way for the city's long-anticipated flex street.

Construction between Richmond and Ridout Streets began last Tuesday, temporarilty closing the stretch and forcing cars and buses to reroute. The first leg of what's pegged as Dundas Place is expected to be completed in October.

The prospect of a flex street is the reason why Carmen Mihaltan and her business partner chose to open up Cameli's Pastry and Café back in December.

Carmen Mihaltan is the co-owner of Cameli’s Pastry and Café, which opened back in December along Dundas Street. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"London needs something new," she said. "This summer — it'll be hard for us with construction — but we need to look forward for next year, we are happy because we a hope a lot of people will come here."

Down the street, DNA Gallery has temporarily closed its doors in lieu of the construction as it looks to redesign its space.

"We didn't want to put any art work that would be installed throughout the summertime during the duration of the project in any kind of danger or jeopardy," said associate director Abby Vincent, who's supportive of the flex street.

She said exhibition programming will resume once construction ends and staff can ensure artists a clean and dust-free environment.

The two-year $16-million phase is part of an overall project that will see a flex street stretch from Ridout to Wellington Streets.

Concerns loom

Suzie March has worked at Good Value Thrift Shop along Dundas Street for the last four years. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Not everybody's onboard the project pegged "people's space."

Suzie March, an employee at Good Value Thrift Shop along Dundas Street, has suffered through a business decline after the ongoing reconstruction of the former Kingsmill's building next door.

She said the closure of the Dundas Street stretch will affect about 75 per cent of the store's customers, who are mostly senior citizens commuting on buses.

"It's just inconvenience. When they hopped off the bus right outside it was so easy to come in," she said.

I also don't see people come down here through all this noise and smells and what not … but I'm remaining hopeful.- Suzie March, Good Value Thrift Shop

To ensure a smooth transition, Jim Yanchula, the city's manager of downtown projects, has regularly visited businesses throughout the start of construction phase.

"Face to face encounters have been happening all the time," he said. We've also been giving them advance notices whenever we can in terms of practical things like where to load your truck and how to pick up your garbage, things like that."

Downtown London, a business development group, has initiated a social media campaign that will award people $100 to spend along the core stretch.

'It's something to get excited about'

The 2-year $16-million phase is part of an overall project that will see a flex street stretch from Ridout to Wellington Streets. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Other business owners have planned ahead to counteract any traffic decline as a result of the construction.

Josh Rivers of the Cardboard Café is ramping up his social media advertising with a new marketing strategy.

"Our goal is to reach more of the London circle that's not downtown and to expand our exposure, reach more people," he said.

Darlene Davis' store Filthy Rebena Vintage remains largely unaffected by the current construction until the second phase of the project kicks off next year. Her store is nestled between Richmond and Clarence Streets.

Darlene Davis of Filthy Rebena Vintage is already prepping for the second phase of the construction project. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

But she already has a plan in place to compensate for any losses.

"We're thinking of doing more local markets this summer but next year we will have to make a move like opening up another shop in another city," she said.

"But [Dundas Place] is something to get excited about."