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Some downtown Red Deer business owners say construction is killing their profits

Several 49th Street entrepreneurs say revenues have decreased by 90 per cent
Suzanne Hermary, co-ordinator of the Red Deer Arts Council, is helping turn a newly painted alley, off 49th Street into an outdoor arts venue to draw people to businesses that are floundering because major construction is tying up their street. (Photo by Lana MIchelin/Advocate staff)

Some Red Deer business owners say their revenues have fallen by 90 per cent since a major construction project tore up 49th Street and part of their sidewalks.

They are calling for financial compensation from the City of Red Deer for losing most of their customers since the water-main replacement project was started seven weeks ago.

The utilities work started mid-July and is not slated to finish until the end of October — how are businesses along that street supposed to survive, questioned Alex Charafeddine, owner of Red City Donair and Pita.

“I have lost 90 per cent of my customers. Sometimes I don’t make $100 a day…. They are ruining our business and the city doesn’t give a s—-t,” he added.

Michael Huyzer, owner of A-Plus Art Gallery and Unique Collections, said his revenues are also 10 per cent of what they were before construction killed off walk-by traffic on the street.

Sometimes even the sidewalk have ‘no exit’ signs, making it a logistical nightmare for people to access these businesses, he added.

“We are the only independent gallery in the city that does not get government grants and we could use some financial help,” said Huyzer, who noted COVID-19 lockdowns were hard enough, but now the disruptive construction is extending the pain.

The Red Deer business owners were told they could file an application for compensation from the city but were unlikely to receive financial help.

Tom Marstaller, environmental planning superintendent for the City of Red Deer, admitted on Friday that, to his knowledge, no compensation has ever been granted to businesses for lost revenue.

Such a large construction project can’t avoid causing inconvenience, Marstaller added, but “at the end of the day, that old infrastructure has to be replaced.” Water mains on that street are so old there could be future danger of them failing.

Huyzer believes, with forethought and better communications, the city could have made things a little easier on businesses. For instance, he questioned why it was necessary to dig a 10-foot trench in the sidewalk in front of the Imperial Block right before Centrefest started.

This almost guaranteed that the street performance festival that brought hundreds of families right to the edge of 49th Street, would bring virtually no customers to his gallery — or to other Imperial Block businesses — because of the deep hole in their front doorstep, he added.

Huyzer tried putting up sandwich boards in an alley that was newly painted with murals to lead people to the back of the building, but most people didn’t venture that far.

Business has been so terrible, he is closing his gallery Sunday through Tuesday because the lack of customers was so “deflating.”

Huyzer wishes the city had done the project in smaller sections to reduce the disruption.

Marstaller said the City of Red Deer officials had initially looked into doing the project in two parts to avoid having to tear up the entire block, but found it would be much more costly.

“We talked to the businesses long before we started, and then we talked to them again one month before, and we are trying to communicate with them now… Could communications be better? Probably,” said Marstaller, but sometimes construction plans have to change and “we are trying to the best of our ability to let them know.”

Meanwhile, the Red Deer Arts Council, which is also located on that block, is helping plan some musical entertainment for the newly decorated alley next to Delmar hair college to help bring people down to 49th Street and the impacted businesses.

With no street parking possible now out front, Suzanne Hermary has to temporarily park her car in the alley and then lug supplies half a block to the arts council because it has no rear door. She also estimates getting a parking ticket a week for overstaying at two-hour metered parking spots in the vicinity because there’s no long-term parking available in the nearby lot.

She said she’s looking forward to holding an art market in the alley on Sept. 17.

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Even the sidewalks on 49th Street had ‘no exit’ signs on Friday, making it difficult for area businesses to benefit from walk-by traffic. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/ Advocate staff).
Major construction to upgrade water mains on 49th Street will continue to the end of October. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).