Robert Street is still open for business.
West St. Paul is trying to spread that message using every outlet possible: Facebook, newspaper ads, a special newsletter, videos. The city even plans to distribute 500 T-shirts to promote shopping on the street as some businesses struggle amid road construction.
Shops and restaurants along Robert Street have seen a drop in customers since the city began redoing its main thoroughfare in May.
“They’re not coming. They’re not coming because they are literally avoiding Robert Street,” Jack Angerhofer, manager of Anderson Vacuums, said. In his 48 years at the shop, “This is the least traffic I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Angerhofer has seen about a 20 percent drop in business, mainly from casual visitors who would stop in with a problem vacuum. His “pros,” people in the cleaning and restaurant industries, have not wavered.
At Ali Baba’s King of Gyros, the number of customer visits has fallen at least 20 percent, Owner Attah Kalur said. About half his lunch rush is people who work in downtown St. Paul and they don’t have time to navigate construction, he said.
Owners of Cardinal Corner, a wild bird food and gift store, and West St. Paul Chiropractic said they have seen only a 5 percent drop. They said alley and side street entrances have helped them keep numbers up.
The City Council is trying to ease business owners’ pain. Officials approved $30,000 in promotional spending last week. They voted to add $5,000 to city staff’s spending proposal to do more social media marketing and expand the number of households that will receive a newsletter with local business coupons.
“I just think it’s money well spent,” Council Member Jenny Halverson said of advertising on social media.
Le Braun, co-owner of Cardinal Corner, said she wishes the city had made this push months ago.
“I think it should have been all done ahead of time,” Braun said.
Signs and buses
City Manager Matt Fulton said that while the advertising is probably not enough, the city has to balance aiding businesses with conserving taxpayer dollars.
And it is just one of the initiatives West St. Paul has implemented to help companies during construction.
The city spent around $170,000 to hire Zan Associates as a business liaison. The firm holds a weekly meeting to hear business owners’ concerns, Fulton said.
The city also implemented a circulator bus that runs along the corridor and drops people off at different areas.
The circulator was a long-term project meant to help the elderly and disabled navigate the street, but officials said they hope it also helps businesses during construction.
However, Angerhofer said many of his older clients do not seem to be using it.
“The seniors say they are going to stay away until it gets done,” he said.
Construction of the roadway will take place in two phases, with the second phase scheduled to wrap up in fall 2016.
One of the common complaints Angerhofer hears from customers is that signs along the road are insufficient or confusing.
The city is trying to fix that, too. Businesses can request a permit to put up a temporary promotional sign. Permits allow the sign to be up for 60 days.
“There’s a huge investment that the city’s making in all these things,” Fulton said.