Inside Electric Fetus, you’ll find displays of Prince memorabilia, kitschy socks, jewelry made by local artists, and, of course, a vast selection of vinyl records and CDs for just about every musical taste.
About the only thing you won’t find at the treasured record store with its creaky wood floor just south of downtown Minneapolis: lots of customers.
Business at the store has dropped off nearly 20 percent — $1,500 a day — since September, when the Minnesota Department of Transportation knocked down the Franklin Avenue bridge over Interstate 35W and began building a replacement.
The project has worsened traffic jams and disrupted pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.
With 15,000 fewer vehicles a day using the east-west corridor, neighboring businesses are feeling the pinch, too. Sales at the Wendy’s next door are down 35 percent and the owner of a nearby BP gas station is slashing prices on fuel just to keep the doors open. The effect seems to be limited to businesses immediately surrounding the construction — half a mile away at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, for example, attendance has stayed strong.
Aaron Meyerring, co-owner of the Electric Fetus, said he is dismayed that MnDOT did not put up any signs to help direct customers to his shop on the corner of Franklin Avenue and 4th Avenue S. Those signs are at the top of his holiday wish list.
“It gets confusing. They put up all these road closed signs, but I have not seen any that say open to local businesses or local business traffic only,” he said. “Customers see the scary ‘road closed’ signs and feel they can’t drive past them. We’d like to see a few signs [pointing to our businesses], that’s not too much to ask for,” he said.
Jake and Rachel Eichhorn noticed the lack of signs. They took back roads to get to the Fetus on Monday. “We were determined” to get here, Rachel said as they looked at a selection of vinyl alternative rock LPs.
Nearly three months into the bridge rebuilding project, Meyerring has taken things into his own hands. He put up a big banner on his storefront to let customers know he’s open. He made his own homemade signs that read “Electric Fetus Parking Open” and hung them on road construction signs.
Meyerring and others such as gas station owner Hassan Warsame wonder why MnDOT hasn’t put up signs. The Whittier Neighborhood Alliance has also been asking. Rep. Karen Clark, D-Minneapolis, has even organized meetings with MnDOT in an effort to get signs and advocate for the businesses.
After a meeting last week that included Commissioner Charlie Zelle, MnDOT agreed.
“The signs are coming,” said MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens. “The traffic department is determining the best places to put them.”
Whittier Neighborhood Alliance head Ricardo McCurley said his organization hoped to get money to help see businesses through the construction, similar to how grants and loans were available to businesses along University Avenue in St. Paul when the light rail line was built. That request “has not been given a yes or maybe,” he said.
To help businesses, the alliance is devising a marketing campaign to help drive traffic to the area, McCurley said.
In the meantime, Meyerring is planning to have more in-store album release and book signing events and “Can’t Beat Prices” sales to draw customers.
Warsame, who said gas sales dropped from 170,000 to 130,000 gallons in a month, was selling gas for $2.45 a gallon on Monday, among the lowest in the city according to Gas Buddy, which tracks prices around the Twin Cities. He’s also cut prices on merchandise, noting sales of goods have dropped from $150,000 to $100,000.
“I’m nervous,” said Warsame, who owns the BP station at Franklin and 3rd Avenue S. “I want to stay in business. We are struggling. We hope we can survive. We have to let people know that 3rd Avenue is still open. That is our lifeline.”
Tom Schmitz, director of operations for Wendy’s, said things have been so slow that employees are being farmed out to other locations, and hiring has been put on hold. Things are tight, but he feels the restaurant will survive.
The new Franklin bridge won’t open until April or May, but that won’t eliminate all the worries at the Fetus. That is when 4th Avenue, which runs in front of the store and parallel to 35W, will close and shut off the main entrance to the store’s parking lot.
Meyerring is optimistic though. When Franklin reopens and construction of the 26th Street bridge begins in May, “I hope they will make up for it on the back end and push more traffic to Franklin Avenue.”
Staff writer Emma Nelson contributed to this report.