PORTAGE PARK — A months-long construction project to replace water mains underneath Irving Park Road has snarled traffic and made it impossible to park near Portage Grounds in Portage Park — grinding the cafe's profits to dust, its owner said.
"We're just fed up," said Robert Quezada, who opened the independent coffee shop in 2013 with his girlfriend after becoming frustrated with the lack of places to grab a java jolt in Portage Park. "We're going to try everything we can to survive this."
The project — one of the largest in Chicago this summer, a city spokesman said — that began June 19 is designed to replace more than 5,200 feet of 100-year-old six-inch water mains with 12-inch water mains underneath Irving Park Road between Central and Cicero avenues.
"We do realize that construction is dirty, noisy and very inconvenient for businesses and residents," said Gary Litherland, a spokesman for the city's Department of Water Management.
"This would also be the same situation if that 100-year-old six-inch water main broke, and everyone lost water without warning."
Quezada said he's worried as the end of summer gets closer.
"We count on August to be able to save money to make up for the slow winter months when no one wants to leave the house because it is so cold," Quezada said. "I don't think we will be able to do that this year."
Bob Denneen, a spokesman for Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th), said his office had also gotten complaints from auto dealers on that stretch of Irving Park Road who were unable to get deliveries of cars.
"It has been, and is going to continue to be, a hassle for everyone," Denneen said. "But it has to get done."
The biggest hassle for Portage Grounds customers has been the lack of parking near the cafe, 5501 W. Irving Park Road, Quezada said.
"Sometimes, the closest spot is blocks away," Quezada said. "I see people circling and circling, and then give up."
Because the volume of traffic is so high on Irving Park Road, crews had no choice but to ban parking along the street's south side, said Litherland.
The work has also made sitting outside the cafe less than pleasant, Quezada said.
"It is dusty and loud," Quezada said. "No one wants to be there."
Crews have finished the work between Central and Long avenues, and are scheduled to finish the section between Long and Laramie avenues in two weeks, Litherland said.
"We are working as quickly as we can to provide the best water service possible," Litherland said. "It is also our fervent wish that we do not need to revisit this section of water main for another 100 years."
The final section from Laramie to Cicero through the Six Corners Shopping District will be completed by mid to late September, Litherland said. The three crews usually work in one location for a day or two, and then move on to the next two-block section of street, Litherland said.
Irving Park Road will be repaved once the work is complete, Litherland said.
"We are asking for just a little more patience," Litherland said. "We will be done soon, and the water service along this section of Irving Park Road will be better than ever."
Quezada said he wasn't considering closing the cafe any time soon, but it wouldn't be able to keep its doors open if he and his partner weren't working day jobs to subsidize Portage Grounds.
"I feel a real responsibility to our employees and the neighborhood," Quezada said. "We're hoping things will get better in the fall. That's the best weather for coffee."
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