For lovers of independent movies and vino, the construction of the Violet Crown Cinema and wine bar in the former Regal theater space on the Downtown Mall is a sign of good things to come, but for nearby small businesses along the mall and the Second Street crossing, the ongoing street closure and noise brought about by the project are taking a toll.
“Starting in January, the number of guests that have come to Fellini’s has diminished,” said Fellini’s owner Jacie Dunkle, who first voiced her displeasure with the Violet Crown project in February after the general contractor, Martin Horn, didn’t notify nearby businesses of the road closure—a requirement of the permit. Since then, Dunkle and other area business owners complain that the city has not posted signage explaining the change in traffic pattern that makes the one block of Second Street north of the mall two-way on certain days and that the closure of the block south of Second Street has continued far longer than expected.
“I have people that drive around and drive around and then go to another vape shop,” said Tracy Riffel, co-owner of Smoke Brake Vapes, which opened on Second Street across from the Elk’s Lodge last August. In her first six months in business, Riffel said, her monthly sales tripled, but business has dipped precipitously in the past several months and she blames the construction.
“For a business in the baby stages, this is killing me,” Riffel told city representatives who met with her in her store on Monday, June 1.
Currently, the street is closed to traffic Monday through 5pm Thursday, when it reopens through Sunday, a schedule that is currently set by an extension to the permit through June 30. While Dunkle and Riffel had hoped the street would be entirely reopened months ago, according to a city representative, that was never the plan.
“The project is scheduled to be complete before the film festival in November,” wrote neighborhood planner Missy Creasy in an e-mail. “The applicant applied for shorter terms multiple times to give the city time to revisit and revise anything as needed.”
Martin Horn’s superintendent on the project, Michael Castorani, did not return a call for comment.
Creasy explained the lack of signs regarding the two-waying of the street on the days that the block south of the mall is closed.
“We did not want to encourage vehicles to turn [onto Second Street] from Market but we did not want to prohibit it,” she said, noting that the two-waying was necessary to allow drivers to access the private parking lot behind Fellini’s. She also said the businesses affected by the street closure may be eligible for city-funded marketing assistance that has been offered to businesses affected by large-scale capital improvement projects.
Noting she had trouble meeting her payroll this month, Riffel said she wishes there had been more communication not only from the city but from the owners of Violet Crown. “I’m happy the space is filled but at what cost?” she said. “This chain has deep pockets and is already bullying the not-so-deep pockets of the surrounding businesses. I will be hesitant to visit,” she said.
With other massive construction projects looming around downtown including the Market Street Plaza on Water Street, Dunkle said she is particularly concerned that the city communicate more closely with area businesses likely to be affected before work is ever approved.
“That needs to happen on the front end,” said Dunkle.