“I have customers that are really faithful to me, but they really don’t want to come down Grant Line,” said Gerri Buntin, owner of a furniture and décor shop in the heart of the construction zone.
She said her business, Home Décor at 133 W. Grant Line Road, was profitable before the roadwork began in late 2009. Since then, she said, things have turned sour.
“It’s almost taken it down to absolute nothing. People don’t want to come to Grant Line … And when I first bought the business, I was doing very well.”
Buntin isn’t the only one with complaints about the roadwork, which has turned one of the city’s main east-west boulevards into a jarring hodgepodge of dips and bumps, and at times — such as Wednesday, when crews ground down the road surface to make way for a final coat of asphalt — more-or-less impassable.
Santokh Judge has owned Sansar, an Indian restaurant, since April 2010.
He said the construction makes a dusty atmosphere for the modern, sleek Sansar, and it’s dampened his business.
“Sometimes people don’t want to come in here (because of the construction),” he told me Wednesday.
What makes matters worse, according to Buntin and Judge, is that the city of Tracy hasn’t done much to help, despite its business-friendly rhetoric.
“They didn’t even bother,” Judge said.
“I think the city should do something to help out the small businesspeople,” Buntin said. “If you can’t keep what you have, how are you going to bring other businesses in?”
Officials from the city’s Economic Development Department weren’t able to respond to Wednesday requests for comment by press time.
But according to Andrew Malik, the engineering department director, the project was done in the most business-friendly way possible.
“There’s always a lot of discussion about the quickest time to get to a project,” Malik said.
He suggested the job could have been done sooner if Grant Line was shut down completely, but that would have severely crippled the businesses there. Instead, he said the city views the $6.7 million project — funded by developer fees, not the in-the-red general fund — as a necessary improvement.
“It’s investing in the older part of town,” Malik said. “We acknowledge there was inconvenience.”
Plus, he and city engineer Kul Sharma insist there are plenty of reasons why the job once scheduled for completion in October 2010 is still ongoing.
As part of the project, sewer, water and storm lines — both mains and connecting lines to businesses and residences — were replaced. Some were up a half-century old, Sharma said. And during construction, crews discovered unknown lines that had to be identified before they could be removed or worked on.
No doubt the city wanted to avoid a San Bruno-like explosion.
Those delays, in addition to rainy weather, pushed the project’s due date back to July 2011.
But Malik insists that once the project’s done, including new landscaping, “It’ll be something to see.”
Sharma added that the infrastructure being laid down is expected to last between 40 and 50 years.
While that won’t ease the sting for folks who have been pushed to the brink, not every business owner along the under-construction stretch has noticed a drop-off.
Isabel Benitez, who runs Juanita Market, said her customers haven’t complained at all.
“We haven’t heard anything,” Benitez said Wednesday. “Sales have been down a little, but it’s hard to tell if it’s because of (the construction).”
Other business owners in Tracy who’ve been through the road construction ringer agree it could be worse.
Richard Hughes has owned Richard’s Menswear on the corner of B and 10th streets for 31 years. A survivor of the city’s streetscape project in the Aughts, he recalled when Central Avenue and 10th Street were completely shut down and had their sidewalks fenced off.
Hughes said the businesses on Grant Line will some day be better off because of the improvements.
“They will benefit from it, if they can survive,” he said.
But Ken Cefalo, owner of Main Street Music and a fellow streetscape veteran, said he sympathizes with the north-city businesses, even if their street remains open when downtown was shut down.
“I really feel for those guys.”
• Contact editor Jon Mendelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.