EDGEWATER — The CTA's proposal to close four stations for up to 3 ½ years to completely rebuild a stretch of the Red Line has business owners wondering whether they can even survive.
More than 28,000 weekday train trips begin or end at the four stations proposed for reconstruction: Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr. Businesses near the station rely heavily on the foot traffic created by the stations.
Some owners said they were preparing for the worst as initial plans for the $1.33 billion project were released. Construction could start as soon as 2017 if the CTA gets the federal and local funding it needs.
"Cut and dry, it's basically a death sentence," said Jim Dababneh, 38, who owns Pizzeria Aroma and Chicago Grind Cafe in Edgewater. "Berwyn without the 'L' stop is a dead street."
Ben Woodard says some owners don't know if they'll make it:
Dababneh said he recently borrowed heavily to buy and renovate the cafe — before he knew that just a few years later the station, which attracts many of his customers, would be closing for more than three years.
"It's going to hurt a lot," he said. "So much of our business relies on people eating — dine in or to go — while heading toward the train or going home and getting off the train."
But Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said he's fighting to keep Berwyn open for at least the first 1½ years of construction. The Lawrence Avenue station would also remain closed for the duration of construction, but Bryn Mawr and Argyle would be open for some of the time.
"The CTA will look at every single opportunity to cater to his wish," Jeff Wilson, CTA's government and community relations officer, said in an interview last week. "Everything we can do to help the community thrive and grow during this project the CTA wants to do."
As planning and designing of the project continues, the CTA will determine "whether it's possible" to keep the station open, said Steve Hands, the project's senior manager.
"It becomes a very interesting dance," he said. "It's a very tight environment."
The CTA has plans to work with aldermen and the Edgewater and Uptown chambers of commerce to keep people shopping and eating on the streets.
"We always do our best to get proper signage," said Katrina Balog, the executive director of the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce.
Balog said signs and word-of-mouth encouragement can go a long way to keep people shopping during station closures.
When Berwyn closed for six weeks in 2012, cafes like the Kitchen Sink found "unexpected benefits" during construction, such as dozens of hungry workers needing a place to grab lunch.
"They would have an order for 50 sandwiches for the whole crew," she said. "The food business and coffee places really appeal to people who are working throughout the day."
The Bryn Mawr station would be partially closed during the project, according to the CTA proposal. [DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard.]
The Berwyn station could be closed for more than three years, according to the CTA proposal. [DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard.]
Kitchen Sink co-owner Erin Stevens, 29, said she was waiting for more information to be released before getting worried.
If the station does close for the duration of the project, "I think we could survive," she said. "It's not ideal."
Dababneh said during the previous Berwyn closure he saw a 15-20 percent slump in business.
Balog said the closures would be worth it for businesses that can stick it out.
"I think if they can wait it out they’ll be rewarded," she said.
She said she expects lots of new development on the commercial strips when the project is complete, similar to what happened along the Brown Line when it was overhauled.
Keith McCormick, executive director for the Uptown chamber of commerce, said the business owners he spoke to didn't "seem overly concerned."
"Most of the business owners have a good long-term perspective," McCormick said.
"Lawrence, Wilson and Argyle [stops] are gateways to our community. For a lot of people, it's their first introduction to the neighborhoods. It's important that they don't see a station that's falling apart."
But Loan Nguyen, who owns Pho Loan, 1114 W. Argyle St., near the Argyle Red Line station, said in an interview he was "very worried" the construction would hurt his business.
He was shocked to hear about the station closure, especially since Argyle Street is seeing a lot of construction as part of the Argyle Streetscape project as it is.
The recent construction, which had crews replacing a century-old water main, hurt his business, he said; it led to a lack of parking and less foot traffic.
Another Argyle Street business owner, Ellen Duong, agreed, saying the recent water main construction was "really bad" and "awful" for her family-owned shop, which sells plants and Asian gifts.
But Duong, whose family has run Qideas, 1134 W. Argyle St., for five years, didn't seem as worried about the Argyle Red Line station being closed for 1-2½ years.
She pointed to the fact that many of their customers don't take the train — they drive in from out of state.
"The only people taking the train [to come here] are tourists," she said. "It'll affect the restaurants more than us."
Tigist Reda, who owns Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, 4801 N. Broadway, said a lot of her customers use the train to get to her restaurant.
"It's scary, but I don't know what the outcome will be exactly," she said.
Like Balog, McCormick said proper signs will be key.
"We encourage our business owners to let their customers know they'll be open the whole time," he said.
When the time comes, McCormick said, he will "adjust the plan accordingly, see how it impacts day-to-day."
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