Road work slows coffee stand’s customers to trickle

ARLINGTON — The Coffee Cabana used to serve mochas, lattes and Americanos to more than 100 customers a day.

With construction of a new roundabout at the intersection of Highway 9 and 172nd Street NE this summer, the number of its daily customers has dropped to fewer than 10. Access to the coffee stand from Highway 9 has been blocked for more than a month.

Coffee Cabana owner Jennifer Bjornson, 32, of Arlington, said she and two part-time employees are trying unsuccessfully to eke out a living. Bjornson, the mother of two preschool boys, normally keeps four other people employed.

“We have no income right now. There’s no pocket change left,” Bjornson said. “The landlord has stopped calling to ask for the rent money.”

Jay Drye, engineering manager for state Department of Transportation projects in the region, acknowledged the effect of construction on Bjornson’s business.

“We have tried to minimize the duration of this phase of the roundabout project. The contractor started on the east half of the intersection so that people would be able to get back to the coffee stand sooner,” Drye said. “We hope the owner sees a nice improvement when we’re done.”

Wet weather this season has put the entire project about three weeks behind schedule, but easier access to Coffee Cabana should be restored in a couple of weeks, Drye said.

The $15 million roundabout project is intended to make the intersection safer and less congested for the estimated 17,000 drivers who use it daily.

The new roundabout also should be able to handle the residential and industrial growth expected in the Arlington-Marysville area, state officials said.

The Coffee Cabana opened in 1999 and Bjornson began working there as a barista in 2003. She used a second mortgage on her house to buy the business in 2005.

The state has provided signs on the highway telling Bjornson’s customers that she’s still open for business.

But to get to the Coffee Cabana, one has to drive 12 blocks to the south, turn east on 160th Street NE, north on 91st and back north to 172nd.

“It’s a two-mile detour,” Bjornson said. “I only hope that some of my regular customers come back to us.”

One Coffee Cabana patron who hasn’t given up is LaVonne Bickle of Arlington.

Bickle, whose favorite beverage is a mocha Yoguccino, says its worth taking the “intimidating” detour to get there.

“For years now, folks have lined up at the Coffee Cabana for their favorite must-have java,” Bickle said in an email to the Herald.

“I had to wait until I had a day off work to go scout it out the detour and find out how in the world to get into the Coffee Cabana parking lot. Here’s hoping they’ll still be in business when that new roundabout opens to regular traffic.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427;

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