BRIDGEPORT — Serene Chinese music hums through the speakers at Ed's Potsticker House as two couples make their way into booths.
Soon after, a concrete mixer roars to life outside as workers pour cement into 20-foot-wide crater that runs right through one of Bridgeport's main commercial drags. The vibrations rattle the floors, the noise kills conversations.
"It's very bad. ... It's been a nightmare," said Edmond Liu, owner of the restaurant at 3139 S. Halsted St. since 2000.
Casey Cora says the project is supposed to wrap up soon, but neighbors have heard that before:
Liu and virtually of the business owners along a three-block stretch of South Halsted Street say they've endured huge slumps in sales since the disruptive sewer repair project started in November.
Replacing the aging, underground sewers has meant digging up portions of the street, which has led to parking restrictions, rerouted bus lines and vexing traffic detours for motorists who dare to navigate around the heavy machinery.
"In so many ways, I think it affects everyone on this block. We've had a lot of complaints from customers, how it's hard to find parking. It's bad enough to have to pay the meters, now with this going on it's even harder to find spaces," said Lorraine Tyler, an employee at Ace Bakery, 3241 S. Halsted St.
A spokesman for the city's water department said the Halsted portion of the project is expected to wrap up Jan. 30 — more than a month past the original completion date — and that doesn't include the follow-up work from gas and electric utilities.
Ald. Jim Balcer (11th) has said the work "has to be done" despite the inconvenience it's causing.
Some business owners are coping with the downturn in creative ways. Taco Erendira, a venerable Mexican diner at 3207 S. Halsted St., is offering free delivery to the customers who've stopped coming to them.
Still, most of the businesses say they rely on a mix of foot traffic and the lure of on-street parking to draw in business. Without it, they're sunk.
Carlos Maxwell, the manager of the UPS store at 3231 S. Halsted St., said the heavy machinery has often blocked the view of his just-opened store.
"The people have traveled down Halsted have missed our location. They've given up and gone to other sites only to call me later and ask where our store is. That's happened a couple times," he said.
Liu estimates the construction has cost him about $30,000 in lost revenue and out-of-pocket costs to shore up his building after health inspectors closed it for four days in December after a rat infestation.
The vermin, he said, scattered away from the dirty sewers into his business as crews "knocked, knocked, knocked" on the pavement to dig up the street.
"It's just been a disaster," he said.
Meanwhile, the project that will replace some 6,000 feet of century-old sewer pipes, presses on.
Other work is taking place at the intersection of 35th and Aberdeen streets and snaking through a residential section beginning at 32nd Street and Racine Avenue and ending at 33rd Place and Lituanica Avenue.
That's expected to continue through the spring, water department spokesman Gary Litherland said.
Or it could be later than that, depending on the weather.
"We never know when we're going to get clobbered by a storm," he said.
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