CHARLOTTE, NC (Jonathan McFadden/The Charlotte Observer) -
When Isaac Dorbor opened his barbershop in the Prosperity Shopping Plaza three years ago, traffic to the shop was steady, his employees juggled 200 clients on average and the business saw about 30 walk-in customers on a slow day.
But that was before construction on Interstate 485 in northeast Mecklenburg spawned new traffic patterns, closed roads and changed street names. Now the employees at World Class Barbers are lucky if they cut eight heads on a slow day, Dorbor said. Two barbers have left the shop and revenues have dropped by 30 percent, he said.
Dorbor is one of about a half-dozen business owners in the area who say they have seen declining revenues – some as much as 70 percent – because construction has taken away their frontage and frustrates customers. Some say they're preparing to spend thousands to reprint fliers, brochures and menus after city officials changed part of Prosperity Church Road to Docia Crossing.
"It's not insignificant money when you spend $2,000 to $3,000" on advertising, said Danny Leon, who owns CKO Kickboxing in the plaza with his wife, Amy. "We spent a great deal of money on literature."
Expected to open in December, the final 5.7-mile section of I-485's outer loop caps a 25-year, 67-mile project. The latest roadwork rerouted part of Prosperity Church Road, and the businesses in Prosperity Shopping Plaza now have a Docia Crossing address.
The city renamed that stretch of Prosperity Church Road to minimize confusion, said Doreen Szymanski, spokeswoman with the Charlotte Department of Transportation.
"In this case, changing the name of that short piece of Prosperity Church made more sense than renaming Prosperity Church for miles," she said. "You affect fewer businesses, fewer property owners. If you have two Prosperity Church roads ... it really sets up a condition whereby emergency services could have trouble finding the location."
City officials said they met with business owners and added signs to help customers find the plaza during the heaviest phases of construction.
"I would have thought that would have had some impact" on the business owners' concerns, said city Councilman Greg Phipps, who represents District 4 and sits on the council's transportation and planning committee.
The cost of change
But business owners in the Prosperity Shopping Plaza, anchored by a Bi-Lo, say it hasn't.
Danny and Amy Leon, former New York TV news producers who poured their retirement savings into opening CKO Kickboxing, said they were told to expect 70,000 motorists to pass their business when they leased the property at the shopping plaza last September. A month later, crews closed a stretch of Prosperity Church Road, turned the part in front of the kickboxing studio into a dead-end street and opened a new road that leads motorists behind the shopping plaza.
That was the first blow, the Leons say. The second came in March when a hand-delivered letter from the city told them the block of Prosperity Church Road in front of their studio would be renamed Docia Crossing.
To adapt, they're expecting to reprint all their marketing materials, which include $450 worth of brochures; $350 in advertisements on city buses; $125 in postcards; and an estimated $3,000 spent on wrapping a car with the studio's logo, pictures and address.
"We're getting choked right out," Danny Leon said.
Paul Cina, who co-owns Due Amici pizzeria and spent $1,000 on new menus and $200 on business cards with the old address, said the restaurant's revenue dipped by 20 percent once construction started. Profits, he said, are starting to rebound "little by little," but he still expects to spend more money on reprinting new menus and cards with the Docia Crossing address.
Szymanski said the city gathered input from residents who wanted that piece of road to be changed to Docia Crossing, named for Docia Barber, an 84-year-old grandmother who was struck and killed in 2009 by a shoplifting suspect fleeing police in a high-speed chase.
"I'm not sure if naming it something else would help with their concern," Szymanski said of business owners. "I think their big concern is they're no longer on Prosperity Church Road. That's just unfix-able at this point."
But business owners are still concerned with how they'll recover. Juan Sanchez, owner of Tanaka Grill & Sushi, said the restaurant saw a 9 percent decline in revenue when roadwork began, and then a 12 percent to 13 percent reduction in the following months. His restaurant takes in about $400,000 a year.
That kind of drop in revenue, he said, is "significant for a small business." He attended meetings with the city and expressed his concerns about the construction, but said most of those worries were never addressed.
Mathnasium of North Charlotte, a math tutoring center, lost more than 70 percent in revenue, bringing monthly earnings to about $10,000 – "just enough to pay the rent" and employees, owner Arethea Bristow said.
Charles Knox, whose real estate firm owns the Prosperity Park shopping center across the street, said deals with prospective tenants tapered off in spring, but he's unsure if that was related to construction. The center's retail building has five out of six suites filled, Knox said, and five of the eight office condos are occupied.
Diane Cevallos, who has owned the Charlotte Family Yoga Center in Prosperity Park for four years, said construction has cut her walk-in customer traffic by 50 percent. Cevallos and three other business owners said they staked flags and signs on Prosperity Church Road to let motorists know they were still open. They said city officials told them to remove the signs or risk a fine because they violated a city sign ordinance.
Bi-Lo is working with its landlord to add more signs, said Julianne Roberts, corporate spokeswoman. "We would like the community to know that despite the current lack of additional signage, we are open and ask our customers to bear with us throughout this construction improvement phase."
The city installed temporary signs pointing motorists to the plaza during heavier phases of construction, Szymanski said. At least one sign on Prosperity Church Road showing drivers how to get to the plaza remains.
"If they think that was inadequate, it's the first I'm hearing of that," Phipps said last week. "We've tried to be accommodating."
While the construction is inconvenient for businesses, it's also inconvenient for customers, said Harry Bowen, economics professor at Queens University's McColl School of Business. "You're going to have to figure out a way to lower the cost to offset that inconvenience," he said, including offering two-for-one deals, discounts, coupons and lowering prices.
"If the business ends up lowering the total price that a consumer bears in coming to their store, they will see an increase in business," Bowen said. "The dilemma down the road (is) when you suddenly take away those benefits."
Deals and discounts are how Dorbor says he's staying afloat. He's already spent about $1,200 on reprinting fliers and postcards and mailing them to customers of his barbershop to reflect the address change. He's offered back-to-school specials and bought advertising on Facebook to remain visible.
"I do understand when it's all said and done, we should benefit," Dorbor said. "But the thing is: When?"