Construction crews began roadwork last month along a stretch of Atlantic Avenue, blocking off right lanes in each direction from 33rd Street to Bixby Road and causing traffic to back up daily along the retail business corridor.
City officials expect the $1.5-million project to repave the street with rubberized asphalt pavement and replace curbs and sidewalks to be completed by mid November, just before Thanksgiving. In the meantime, vehicles have been directed around cones and barricades while pedestrians have had to meander around gaping holes in the street.
But impacts to businesses that rely on curbside parking and access to driveways, especially during lunchtime hours, will be “unavoidable” for the next few weeks, said Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA).
The only consolation is that the contractor, All American Asphalt, and the City have been accommodating to businesses thus far, said Cohn and some business owners. Cohn said the street improvements should make the “entrance” to Bixby Knolls more attractive in the long run.
“We’re trying to stay optimistic throughout this whole thing because we know the end game is going to be great,” Cohn said. “It’s just trying to get through it and dealing with any issues that come up.”
According to a statement from the City of Long Beach, access to businesses will be maintained and street-sweeping enforcement will be suspended on adjacent side streets to provide additional parking.
City officials encourage motorists to use “alternative routes when possible,” as lane closures will be required during construction. While Atlantic Avenue will stay open during working hours, motorists can expect some traffic delays.
As work officially began on Oct. 10, employees at GoFetch, a dog-daycare, -training and -grooming facility at 3434 Atlantic Ave., couldn’t drive out of the business’s parking lot because the driveway was blocked, but within minutes construction workers installed a metal plate for employees and customers to drive over, said Carley Hovis, co-owner of the shop.
She said the business was also first in line to have concrete poured for a new front sidewalk just in time for the shop’s one-year anniversary event last Saturday that included a “Howl-o-ween” costume party for dogs. Though the event had a less-than-expected turnout since some walk-in clients from the neighborhood avoided the trek, the accommodations have been a “redeeming factor,” Hovis said.
“It’s definitely been a little bit of a challenge for us,” she said. “I hope that it’s the prettiest street in Long Beach by the time it’s done.”
Some business owners said they have already seen a dip in sales as people have been avoiding the drive down Atlantic Avenue or have stayed away from the area entirely.
Bixby Knolls Car Wash and Detail Center at Atlantic Avenue and Wardlow Road had a 20-percent drop in business on Saturday, Oct. 19 that manager Ward Shaw attributes to the street construction. He said business has been slow on Saturdays, which are normally the establishment’s busiest time of the week.
“Customers who are dedicated to do it, wash their car; sure they came, but the ones that do it on a whim… those are the ones that kept on going, I’m sure,” Shaw said. “It will be nice when it’s done. It has to happen. What else can you do?”
Restaurant owners have had differing views on the impacts to business.
Jack Skandalakis, owner of Café Bixby, located a few blocks north of the construction zone, said lunchtime business during the week has dropped off by about 80 percent since employees from nearby businesses and even residents are now steering clear of the area. He said it has taken him about 26 minutes to drive up Atlantic Avenue to get to his restaurant.
“Most of my business comes from the business section around Memorial Hospital and the dealerships on the Signal Hill side, and nobody will come up Atlantic anymore,” Skandalakis said. “They’re staying away from it… People have 40-minutes leave. They cannot spend an extra half an hour in their cars trying to get here. They can come through the side streets, but most people are avoiding the area right now.”
He said the City should have done the construction during the summer, when traffic is much less since school is out and people are on vacations, rather then during the winter, when business typically picks up.
“Hopefully they finish up and get out because this is continuing for another month, and they’re going to put us out of business,” Skandalakis said. “There’s a sign that says it’s going to be completed by the second week of November. I hope that’s true, because if we go through Thanksgiving and through Christmas, then there’s going to be big problems.”
David Sanchez, owner of Patricia’s Restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner at 3626 Atlantic Ave., however, said the only negative aspect of the construction is the impact to parking lots. Otherwise, business has been normal, he said. “People still seem to want to come in,” Sanchez said. “I wouldn’t call it slow.”
Cohn said the owner of Baja Sonora said business during the evenings has been steady despite the road construction. “I think people are still finding their way there, but of course, for the businesses and the retailers, it’s going to be a tough couple of weeks,” Cohn said.
Some business owners said they look forward to the improved sidewalks and streets along the section of Atlantic Avenue that is located in the 7th Council District.
City officials said in a statement that the project being financed by Proposition C funds replaces more than 80 percent of the sidewalk. The existing concrete street will be paved with rubberized asphalt pavement that will make for a quieter and smoother ride.
“It’s nice to see that they are doing improvements especially now when so many of those kinds of things are either being put off or cut back,” Shaw said. “With infrastructure, we know that those are necessary.”
Seventh District Councilmember James Johnson said in a statement that the project is critical to keeping a cohesive community. City officials said the section of Atlantic Avenue hadn’t been repaved in several decades.
“I’m pleased that this long-overdue project is happening,” he said. “The improvements will help unify this important arterial corridor with one look from the San Diego (405) Freeway to north Long Beach– that of a top-notch business district,” he said.
Cohn said improvements to the road are needed and the City is also fixing drainage issues at 37th Street and Atlantic Avenue in front of Jongewaard’s Bake & Broil restaurant.
“There’s been a number of spots that have been bumpy or uneven,” Cohn said. “They’ve spent a lot of time analyzing it, and I think we’re going to have a much better place all together.”
As for this month’s First Fridays Art Walk (today, Nov. 1) that takes place north of the construction along Atlantic Avenue from Bixby Road to San Antonio Drive, Cohn said he has asked the contractor to keep the corridor as open as possible.
“We want to aim for Friday to have a clear path starting from late afternoon to late evening as wide open as possible to get people up and down and around to all the businesses,” he said. “We don’t want to put anybody off by having them try to weave their way through all the cones and barricades and stuff.”
Cohn said BKBIA plans to host an event on Atlantic Avenue to commemorate the end of construction. “What we’d like to do is plan something for after, when it’s all said and done,” he said. “We want to bring people back to the businesses.”