Drivers might hate sitting in the traffic caused by the Route 30 widening project, but for businesses along the way it's been just as frustrating.
Many have had parking spaces and driveway entrances taken away. Their storefronts have been obscured by large storm sewers waiting to be installed. Motorists have often avoided driving down that route at all.
Business owners along the way admit sales have slowed, but they're still optimistic for what the impact will be once the construction is completed—if they can survive that long.
"It’s just a matter of getting through it," employee Rose Petrizzo said. "It's been a lot slower, and the business is not well marked from this end because people might not see where the driveway is until they pass it, so then they decide not to turn around."
The long-awaited Route 30 project, , involves reconstructing the roadway, building a second lane in both directions and adding a raised concrete median for nine miles through New Lenox, Mokena and Frankfort.
The end result should ease traffic and bring new business to New Lenox, but in the meantime, the likely delayed construction schedule could impact businesses.
in New Lenox closed in February, and owner Terry Johnson put part of the blame on the Route 30 project.
"It came suddenly because of the additional year of road construction," Johnson said of the reason for his business closing.
Help from the Village
As one hot dog joint moves out of town, a new one plans to come here. Portillo's plans to come to New Lenox along Route 30, and village officials think that could be a big draw to keep drivers on Route 30.
"People are going to be coming from a lot of other places besides just New Lenox to get Portillo's," Mayor Tim Baldermann said at a recent Village Board meeting.
Portillo's wouldn't open until September 2012, if everything remains on schedule, but in the meantime the village is working with the businesses along Route 30 to advocate for them during this trying time.
"It's our responsbility to represent the businesses when it comes to interacting with the state," economic development director Nancy Hoehn said. "They're in there to get a job done and they're not necessarily thinking about how it's going to affect the businesses."
In March, the construction crews hit a ComEd line and power went out for the businesses in Atrium Point. was delayed getting its hot foods ready for lunch, and simply closed for the day. Village engineer Will Nash was on the scene to make sure everyone knew what had happened.
There have been other problems, such as in February when a , shutting down a stretch of Route 30 for a few hours. And there's the piles of dirt and construction equipment that sometimes keep businesses hidden from drivers.
Being sensitive to these issues, the village has loosened its sign requirements and allowed more temporary signs for these businesses. MorningStar Mission has a big banner reading "Open During Construction," for example, in hope that drivers don't mistake the vanishing parking lot as a sign of closure.
The first step for Hoehn was hitting the streets and giving contact information to the businesses impacted by the construction.
"They're the eyes and ears, and if there's something going on and an entrance is closed or they weren't expecting things, we've asked them to make us aware of things immediately so we can react," she said.
Still, even some long-established businesses have had varying results during the construction.
Local favorite is used to seeing its parking lot packed from the time it opens in the morning to its closing at 3 p.m., but that hasn't always been the case during construction, owner Jason Panagos said. Country Charm lost a row of parking spaces south of the business.
“It’s definitely affected us," Panagos said. "The weekends are still fine but during the week has been a lot slower. I just don’t think people want to be stopping around here."
For some businesses, such as , the key is being able to keep business away from the construction.
"I think we’re at an advantage because we have the ability to bring our business to the people," owner Dan Smith said. "They can pick up the phone and we’ll manage the traffic."
Road to Recovery
Despite slower times, the business owners recognize the construction will lead to better things down the line.
Hoehn, who went through a similar project when she was economic development director in Shorewood during Route 59 construction, is reassuring.
"I think those businesses would say it was well worth the inconvenience because now the traffic does really move and it's a lot easier to access the businesses," Hoehn said.
The completed project won't just improve life for existing businesses along the road, but village officials believe it will make New Lenox an attractive spot for new development. Fuller's Car Wash already plans to build after the construction, and a number of other developments are waiting to come in when the roads are new.
One thing Hoehn coordinated in Shorewood that she would like to replicate in New Lenox following the construction is the "Return to Route 59," an effort to get people back in the habit of using that route. It featured deals and events from businesses on Route 59.
"If you're going to avoid using an area for a period of time, you might not go back right away," Hoehn said. "This was a popular way to get people back on the road and seeing those businesses."
So as business owners continue to struggle with the economy and the added stress of road construction, there is a sense of optimism among them.
"We know it’s going to be great when it’s complete," said Smith, the Garden Center owner. "I think we’re all looking forward to that."