Spending a Hot Summer Day on University Avenue with Small Business Owners

by: Iric Nathanson, Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers

The temperature was inching up towards 100 degrees when I paid a visit to Pete LeBak at his University Avenue barbershop earlier this summer. I had been checking in with Pete off and on over the past few months as work got underway on the Prospect Park segment of the CCLRT project.

Now, I was back to assess the impact of construction on his business. Earlier in the week, work crews had begun tearing up the south side of University Avenue – in front of Pete’s Shop – as traffic was routed along the north side of the roadway. The intersection at Bedford just down the street was still open, but that would soon close, leaving Pete basically land locked.

My job as a staff member for the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD) is to assist businesses, like Pete’s, located along the Minneapolis segment of the Central Corridor. For the last year and a half, our agency had been administering the Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan Program in Minneapolis and, with support from the Funders Collaborative, providing technical assistance to impacted businesses.

As a long- time University Avenue business owner, Pete had a large following in the Prospect Park area and his barbershop was a real neighborhood institution.  But his customers faced challenges in getting to the shop while construction was underway on University Avenue. Our in-house graphics team provided maps that Pete could distribute showing the detour routes to the shop and we also provided lawn signs that marked the route along Bedford Avenue. We helped Pete get more parking by arranging with the Wells Fargo Bank down the block to let Pete’s customers use the bank parking lot on a temporary basis.

After stopping in at Pete’s, I moved down University Avenue where I met with Jeff Barnhart at Overflow Café.  Like Pete, Jeff faced challenges in directing customers to his business at 2929 University Avenue. During the construction season’s early months, the north side of University was closed which meant that many of Jeff’s customers needed to use the Malcolm Avenue detour to the reach the café. But Jeff’s access problems had been eased somewhat now that the north side of University Avenue was re-opened. We were able to provide support for Jeff’s signage which made use of imaginative “yellow brick road” markers along the detour route to his shop. His business has also qualified for a Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan.

We, along with our partner organizations, are doing what we can to help local businesses contend with the short-term disruptions caused by LRT construction. But, at the end of the day, it’s their determination and imagination that makes the real difference.