Customers used to fill the tables for lunch at Cafe Istanbul — until barricades filled Apache Boulevard in front of the eatery. It’s no wonder they’re staying away.
Light-rail construction has turned the once-broad, sixlane thoroughfare into a bumpy mess of orange barricades, unpredictable restrictions and sometimes a single lane in each direction.
That has scared away many customers and confused even those determined to brave construction.
Cafe Istanbul owner Randa Ayashe understands how hard it can be to figure out where to turn into her business.
“I know where the place is, and it was hard to know where the exit is,” Ayashe said.
Businesses along Apache Boulevard are feeling the sting of light-rail construction and wondering how much worse the disruption will get. For most, the answer is that it’s going to get worse.
Work started last summer along most of Apache Boulevard in Tempe to move utility lines. The most intense projects will come this summer and fall when workers rebuild sidewalks and curbs on the rest of the street.
Construction is the worst now in front of Cafe Istanbul near Dorsey Lane.
Nearby, Stinkweeds New and Used Music saw business plummet when work started in July. Things are better now — but still not normal, owner Kimber Lanning said.
“I think people are just getting used to the fact that you can’t escape it,” Lanning said.
The $1.3 billion, 20-mile Metro rail line is hitting her doubly hard. She has a second location on Camelback Road and Central Avenue in Phoenix where rail construction also is in full swing.
Metro and city officials have tried to ease the merchants’ pain with discount cards and a promotional campaign. They also eased sign regulations and made banners to help drivers find shops obscured by barricades.
None of that has made a difference, Lanning said.
“I’m not trying to criticize them,” she said. “I believe they’re doing everything in their power. There’s no blanket they can throw over all of us and have it work.”
She’s making up for the disruption by promoting next-day mail delivery on her Web site.
At Apache and McClintock Drive, Pep Boys manager Oracio Vega sees auto parts customer traffic drop significantly in the afternoon —especially when workers close one of his two driveways. But he thinks the pain will be worthwhile.
“I’m hopeful it will bring more customers than it will take away,” Vega said.
Tempe light-rail project manager Jyme Sue McClaren said the work will take two years, but about nine months of that will focus on utility relocation and rebuilding the outside edge of the street.
“All of that work is the most disruptive to businesses and neighborhoods and traffic,” McClaren said.