Holiday shopping on Aurora suffers

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:51am

SHORELINE — Although “Business Open” signs decorate a stretch of Aurora Avenue, a slight decrease in holiday shoppers make some business owners less than jolly.

Many business owners say holiday shopping is down a little from previous years, despite efforts by city staff to promote business with signs and vehicle access during Phase 1 of Aurora Avenue North redevelopment, from 145th to 165th streets.

The owner of Seattle Ski and Snowboard, Brian McQueen, said business has “definitely been affected” by roadway construction. The store has been in business since 1977 and McQueen has owned the shop for six years.

“It is hard to track,” McQueen, 40, said, “but we are probably off 10 to 20 percent.”

The store, located near 149th Street and Aurora Avenue North, is a destination business that also attracts drive-by customers, McQueen said. Holiday shoppers typically purchase gifts of snowboards, skis or accessories. Because of construction, McQueen has pursued online marketing to promote business.

Business, however, has improved from last year when there was little snow, McQueen said. But compared to other years it is still down. The store is open nine months a year and closed from June to August.

Customers are often inquisitive about the roadway construction, noted McQueen, who plans to build a new store in May 2007. He expects construction to take about 10 months.

“I think it will be good in the long term and good for the street image,” McQueen said about the Aurora Avenue project. “It has already spurred some redevelopment.”

A similar story is heard from the owner of Inspired Memories, located near 163rd Street and Aurora Avenue North.

Tricia Givens, who owns the store and another in SeaTac with her parents, said business has been slower this year than in the past two years. Business is down about 15 percent, she said.

“We usually get a lot of people who buy gift certificates or large-priced items,” Givens, 31, said. “We haven’t been selling a lot of those.”

The slowest time for business is during rush hour when vehicles on Aurora Avenue North are backed up, she said. The store is open until 8 p.m. on weekdays and patrons usually purchase scrapbook items, such as paper and embellishments.

“I wish there was a way that the businesses weren’t hurt,” Givens said. “But it is time for Aurora to pretty-up.”

Other business owners have been hit even harder by roadway construction, such as the owner of Dollar Bazaar.

“There is no doubt; it is down 50-60 percent,” said owner Sam Mehta about business. “As you can see, I have no customers here; only construction people.”

For the last three months business has decreased, said Mehta, who has owned the store for about a year and a half. Customers say it is hard to access his store as there is no left turn out of the parking lot.

“We were expecting people to come, but because of construction no one is coming,” Mehta said.

The city should compensate businesses for lost revenue and that amount should be included in the overall cost of the project, Mehta suggested.

In order to make ends meet, Mehta has taken a second job at Lynnwood Honda as a salesman. The eight-year resident of Shoreline started his second job about three months ago.

Mehta’s wife also devotes many hours to the store. There are no other employees. In an attempt to attract customers, Mehta taped a sign to the door that reads: “Get one free item with each $10 purchase.”

“They should get it done as soon as possible,” Mehta said about roadway redevelopment. “I don’t know how I will survive.”

Aurora Corridor project manager Kirk McKinley said crews are working hard to keep driveways well-signed and clear.

“We have told people to shop on Aurora anytime they get a chance,” McKinley said, “and we told staff to visit restaurants on Aurora; we are trying to be as responsive as possible.”

Construction began last June. In the spring, construction will shift to the east side of the street and next fall a median in the center of the roadway will be installed. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by the end of next year. The Aurora Avenue Project includes 7-foot sidewalks, two Business Access Transit lanes, bus shelters, underground telecommunications, a center median with left- and U-turn pockets and other landscaping.

“Most businesses are accepting of the project,” McKinley said. “They have to suffer a little bit to gain later on.”

Staff have strived to communicate with business owners about what they can expect each week, McKinley said. Owners are given advance notice so they will not be taken by surprise. Drop-in meetings for business owners also have been scheduled, McKinley said, and the small attendance is a sign that people are not too worried.

“No one has gone out of business,” McKinley said. “No businesses are being taken out by the project.”

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