For the past sixteen months, a project to beautify East 7th Street has plagued local businesses. Construction to improve safety and utilities limited access to restaurants, tax consultants, and convenience stores. Now that the streets look nicer with fresh paint and new plants, some business owners are wondering if it was all worth it.
The City of Austin heard the complaints loud and clear. It rushed to finish the project two months ahead of schedule.
But some of those business owners say the damage has already been done. Fidel Estrada owns a dry cleaners on East 7th Street. He says construction forced him to lay off seven employees. And he lost 75 percent of his customers. The project has only been complete for a few days, but Fidel has yet to notice an increase in business.
"My hopes are down already. I don't think we'll get those customers back," he said.
Next door, Fidel’s daughter owns a flower shop. Diana Limon said her business did a lot better than others’ on the street. She says her store’s internet sales helped. Plus, special occasions like weddings kept her busy in spite of poor access to her brick and mortar location.
Limon says she’s getting a lot more walk-in traffic already. She figures now that the neighborhood looks nicer and feels safer, she’ll do better than before.
"A lot of people are walking in so we have to make some adjustments now. We’re going to try to do a little flower market and put flowers out," she said. "Even if we did it before it didn’t do any good. It was wasting flowers just sitting out there. But now with the new construction I believe there’s gonna be a demand for that."
Limon says she’s excited to make those changes and update the store. But she mentions friends and neighbors who had to close their shops down during the construction.
"We went through a big struggle. Big hit. I think it’s going to be worth it," she said. "It’s going to take time to crawl out of that whole but we’re going to be okay. Everybody’s gonna be happy in the long run."
Contractors will spend the next couple weeks tying up loose ends along the East 7th Street corridor, such as fixing cracked sidewalks or chipped curbs. A ribbon cutting ceremony and small street-fair is planned for two weeks from this Saturday.