After struggling through two years of pandemic-related restrictions, road construction might be the final straw for two Edmonton businesses.
City Liquidations and Koultures Afro-Continental Restaurant — near 118 Avenue and 88 Street — are both experiencing negative impacts from construction in the area.
“Over the past few years, there has always been construction going on along the avenue,” said Shady Darwish, co-owner of City Liquidations.
“Even in the same spots, there has been construction over and over again. I don’t know who’s been planning the construction sites that they’ve been working on the same spot and doing construction and ripping the road apart and then doing it again.”
Darwish said he’s been trying to work with city officials to mitigate the impacts.
“And now they surprised us with a new project (which is) going to stay over six months,” he said.
With a newly acquired second location, Darwish said they made the difficult decision to shut down the store on 118 Avenue.
“(It’s) sad because I’ve been working on the avenue for approximately 10 years. I’ve seen kids grow… To see us shutting down after all these years, after putting all this effort and work into the business, it’s hard to let it go. But then, we have to move on, we have to adapt.”
He said four local businesses are impacted by this latest construction project. Koultures restaurant is one of them.
“This business suffered,” owner Tekle Wold said. “Right now we’re having a very tough time.”
He said the construction has limited visibility of the restaurant to nearly zero.
“Nobody sees us… You’re not going to see us at the front, almost no visibility at the front. We have no parking lot.”
It’s also discouraging Skip the Dishes and Door Dash drivers, Wold said.
“Some of them they cancel it because of this.”
If things don’t improve in the next month or two, Wold said he’ll be forced to close his restaurant.
“My expenses are more than my income. My revenues dropped almost 90 per cent. My two employees have quit.”
On Wednesday, an Edmonton committee discussed the possibility of providing financial assistance to local businesses that are negatively impacted by major construction projects.
“What we mean by major are typically multi-year projects where there’s a lot going on, where there may be extended periods of closure in and around businesses,” Councillor Andrew Knack explained.
“The idea behind this is to allow those businesses who have clearly been impacted by that — you essentially have to provide documentation showing, yes, you’ve been impacted, your sales have been impacted — there’s a way to recover some of that funding.”
He said it’s based on a program that started in Montreal. That city initially set aside a budget of $25 million but didn’t end up needed that much.
“When the Montreal example first started, they were provided funding to businesses typically in the tens of thousands of dollars for those that saw their business impacted by greater than 15 per cent in a year-over-year situation. They have since changed that, just last year, to where businesses have been impacted by five per cent.”
Knack brought the idea forward to council a couple of years ago and is happy it seemed to be well-received on Wednesday.
“What I like about this is that it’s not providing money to a business that actually doesn’t need it,” he said.
“If, through mitigation efforts, a business didn’t actually see an impact to their day-to-day sales, you shouldn’t be giving money to someone who doesn’t actually need it.
“The whole idea here is this really does ask businesses to prove that they have — they’ll provide year-over-year sales data to show: yup they’ve been impacted.”
Edmonton would still have to decide what the final dollar amounts would be, what the cap on the program would be and where the funds would come from, Knack added.
Council as a whole will have the chance to approve it April 4 and at the end of the year, would have to approve a budget to allow work to happen.
“This is a step in the right direction to recognize the economic realities that local businesses have to deal with when we’re dealing with transformational infrastructure projects,” Knack said.
“I didn’t hear from a single person yesterday saying: ‘You shouldn’t build these things.’ What they said was: ‘We just want to make sure we’re supported as best as possible when we’re going through that.’”
Wold echoed those sentiments.
“The job has to be done. We’re not against the construction but it has to be friendly with business.”
Darwish said this type of financial support program might have kept City Liquidations open on 118 Avenue.
“Having that program would have helped a lot for me to at least rethink and reorganize,” he said, “just a hope for me to keep going and keep the business alive and keep serving the community.”
Stony Plain Road is another area experiencing a lot of construction.
“Stony Plain Road, as most Edmontonians know, is going through a pretty wide transformation from a bit of a commuter route by cars to the extension of the West Valley Line, which will go down the centre of the street,” said Todd Janes. “That LRT is a bit different than what we’re used to in Edmonton. It’s more like a streetcar in a way and will run with traffic.”
Janes is the executive director of the Stony Plain Road Business Association, which represents 530 businesses along the west-end corridor.
He expects the LRT construction project to take about five years to complete.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be amazing, but in the meantime, it’s a lot of maybe not-so-short-term pain.”
Stony Plain Road businesses were worried about the impacts of construction, Janes said, from access and visibility issues, to parking challenges and construction noise.
He believes some sort of compensation program could send a strong message of support to local businesses.
“Part of it is to create something for businesses who’ve gone through a pandemic, who’ve dealt with a lot of things, that the city is building this for their future and they have their backs.
“We’re not asking for huge amounts of money, but if a business is directly impacted by construction and they can illustrate that… we feel it would be fair to have some compensation to help them survive.”
On a positive note, Janes said the businesses group has been in communication with the company in charge of the LRT project for about a year and half and the area has seen success, despite the pandemic.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate that we’re actually seeing a positive growth in businesses rather than a decline. I think a lot of that has to do with accessible, free parking, fair lease rates, and really tenacious business owners.”
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