LAKEVIEW — It’s a tale of two Southports.
On a recent sunny weekday, as the Cubs played a few blocks away, Southport Avenue south of Addison Street was bustling with shoppers, and sidewalk cafes were full of patrons.
A few blocks north, small business owners were ready for a break from the construction that has shut down a portion of the street between Waveland and Grace streets, and filled the sidewalks with dust and noise — but few customers.
The reduction in foot traffic has been “terrible,” said Don Hupp, manager of Que Syrah Fine Wines at 3726 N. Southport Ave.
“From 11-4, usually a dozen customers [would come in]. Now it’s down to three or four,” he said.
At Klein True Value, 3737 N. Southport, owner Danny Buino estimates he’s lost 20 percent of his business since the construction began.
“We’re probably looking at $40,000 to $50,000 retail dollars [lost], and I think we’ve been doing better than most because we’re a needs store,” he said. He guessed the neighborhood has sacrificed several million dollars in business over the course of the last few months.
“It has hurt my business and had a big impact,” said Paula Eisen, owner of Click Shoes & More, 3729 N. Southport. “They said they’d be done by Opening Day, but then it got worse and worse and worse.”
Worse, because after crews completed construction on an ancient water main, they discovered a sewer line that needed to be replaced as they worked to repave the road. Now, a portion of the northbound lane of Southport has been closed for weeks, and the street is eerily empty, with few cars parked and few patrons shopping.
“It’s been slower. You can tell it’s because of the construction,” said Matt Tracey, a manager of Sensational Bites, 3751 N. Southport, a dessert shop that gets much of its business from neighborhood residents picking up custom orders. “It’s hard for [customers] to drive up.”
Work began on the water main March 4, and business owners were told things would be back to normal by the time the Cubs started playing in early April. Now, it’s nearly three months into the season and no one’s sure when the construction will end, although some businesses say they've been told it could wrap up this weekend.
“It doesn’t even matter," Eisen said. "When you’re a small business owner, every day counts.”
Businesses complain of a lack of communication from the city. Candace Conty, owner of Dog-a-Holics, 3608 N. Southport, said she got a letter from the city informing her of the construction two days before it began. But after the broken sewer line was discovered, she hasn’t heard from the city.
“There’s a lack of communication that’s been going on,” she said. Requests for comment directed to Ald. Tom Tunney’s (44th) office were not returned, though business owners praised the alderman’s office for its early efforts to keep them informed. Officials with the city Water Department could not be reached for comment.
While her business hasn’t suffered as others have — “We’re lucky because people walk their dogs,” she said — Conty planned on seeing business pick up by Opening Day only to see the construction continue.
“We bought a bunch of inventory because we thought we'd be busy. Now we’re overstocked,” she said.
Eisen, owner of Click, said she had to find other ways to sell to customers.
“I don’t know what [sales] could have been” without the construction, she said. “Customers couldn’t get here.”
“It’s going to end eventually,” said Eisen, who had some customers tell her they shopped at Anthropologie, just south of Addison, instead. “But the damage is done.”
Still, some business owners take the good with the bad.
“Construction takes a long time. It needed to be done,” said Georgie Yost, owner of Leahey & Ladue Consignment, 3753 N. Southport, who said her business has weathered the construction without a hitch. “I just assumed it would take all summer. It’s just life in the big city.”