East Carson Street may be expanding, but for now, sales at businesses located at the South Side's eastern edge are contracting.
In March, PennDOT launched a $14.3 million road-widening project between 25th and 33rd streets. When the project is completed in the fall of 2010, the mile-long stretch of Carson will have two lanes in each direction and a center turning lane at some intersections. On-street parking, new traffic signals, sidewalk upgrades and other improvements are also planned.
Those enhancements are expected to help the businesses clustered in and around the SouthSide Works mixed-use development. But at the moment, some businesses are struggling to lure people past construction crews and into their doors.
"Sales have definitely gone down," says Maureen White, marketing manager for Joseph-Beth Booksellers. "Our foot traffic is way down. Our event attendance is lower.
"As a company, we prepared for the economic downturn," she continues. "But this [construction], in addition to that, has been a challenge."
"It's been bad," says Benny Ulloa, a manager at Emiliano's Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, which sits at the corner of 26th and Carson. "People started avoiding this area" when construction began. "When you have all these machines making all this noise out here, people don't want to deal with that."
Ulloa says Emiliano's opened in early April, just a few days before construction crews obscured the restaurant's storefront facing Carson Street. "We had great results until [the construction] started," he says. "But the day of our grand opening, [crews] were putting fences up."
The slowdown in sales, he says, has forced him to lay off seven employees. "I have to make sure [the business] survives," says Ulloa. "This is supposed to be the best time in the summer, but it's not the best for us."
Other nearby businesses have been spared the worst of the impact -- especially if they are located off Carson. At Claddagh Irish Pub, which sits in the heart of the SouthSide Works at the corner of Tunnel Boulevard and 28th Street, the construction hasn't caused much suffering.
"It's confusing" for customers entering the business district from Carson Street, says Cindy Helfer, a manager at Claddagh. "But [Claddagh] has easy access off the Hot Metal Bridge."
For other businesses, "There are going to be some aches and pains," acknowledges PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi. "It's a difficult situation when you have to do construction in a business district."
Struzzi says businesses at the SouthSide Works will benefit once the project is finished ... and White says that couldn't come soon enough.
"It's really going to be good when it's done," she says. "It's just getting there that's an issue."