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Construction in London, Ont.’s core leads to frustration for business owners

Despite signage throughout the core reminding residents of London, Ont., that downtown businesses are open during construction, owners say they’re seeing a drop in foot traffic.

Construction in the core has been extensive, with the downtown loop beginning in 2021 and the east London link in 2022. Both projects are still ongoing.

Speaking on the downtown loop, director of construction and infrastructure services for the city of London Jennie Dann says the project is nearing completion.

“Our goal is to push through the remainder of the winter months, weather permitting, and then the goal is to be ready for surface paving in the spring,” Dann said.

“We’ll be coming back and applying the red bus treatment to all the lanes on the full loop, so you’ll have the full downtown loop finished this year.”

Dann says that the project has been on schedule, with paving planned for spring of 2024 and final painting expected by mid-2024.

Even though an end to the construction is in sight, business owners are still feeling the impact.

“We have (around) three times fewer people than usual,” says Olha Prytkova, owner of Happiness Café in downtown London.

“People just don’t want to go through this construction, some people want to, but they are so confused about how to get here.”

The city has tried to inform Londoners about businesses, including Happiness, still being open.

Recently, signage was put up at the Wellington and Dundas Street intersection indicating that Happiness specifically continues to be open during construction.

At the time of writing, the only way to access Happiness via the sidewalk was either from Queens Avenue or from a parking lot behind the building.

“We’re needing to make service connections that will interrupt the sidewalk,” says Dann.

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“Because of that, we’ve tried to provide advance notices to businesses and help them learn how to communicate to their customers on how to reach them.”

The city has tried to mitigate the impact on businesses, through signage, extended working hours, or even intermittent full closures for complex work.

A business relations coordinator is also available in case there are issues needing to be resolved.

“(The coordinator) is there to be a direct line for businesses and help them out whenever they need issues resolved or they see that access is difficult and we can go work with the contractor to fix things up.”

The frustration isn’t exclusive to downtown, however, with the east London link causing troubles for businesses along Dundas.

Robin Pero, owner of the horticulture shop Grow and Bloom Co., says that while principal construction has finished, it’s not quite over for her yet.

“They have to come back and do another pass of asphalt,” says Pero. “Some of the sidewalk was done incorrectly so, they’re going to tear that out and do it again.”

Grow and Bloom originally had a shop on Richmond Row as well as the Dundas Street location, but in August 2023, the stores were merged into the Dundas location.

“I knew there was a construction project that was starting over on Dundas, but I didn’t know that it would be to this magnitude. So, when I closed the Richmond shop and moved over here, it pretty much killed all walk-in traffic.”

A poll done on social media found that a significant portion of customers either couldn’t find a way over to the store during construction or found it too inconvenient to go to the store for one reason or another.

“Customers didn’t feel comfortable crossing the road … it was a pile of dirt for a long time. It’s just been a colossal, colossal mess.”

While specific numbers weren’t shared, Pero says she ended 2023 at a significant loss.

Another business in OEV, vintage store Back to the Fuchsia, is expecting to be hit hard by the 2024 construction season.

Back to the Fuchsia falls right in the planned area for Phase 3 of the east London link and is in the process of finding a satellite space for the duration of the construction.

Co-owner Mary Hinton says she reached out to OEV’s Business Improvement Area (BIA) to see about another space or financial help but received disappointing news.

“We had spoken with the BIA, and they were going to help us out … they said that I wasn’t actually in their mandated area, so unfortunately, we aren’t covered for the financial side of help.”

Hinton tells Global News that the boundary for the OEV BIA was Charlotte Street, around 50 metres to the west of her business.

“It’s a little frustrating. Historically, I’ve been included to add vibrancy to the area, but financially, the exact location I’m in has to be covered.”

Hinton says she hasn’t received definitive answers on when the construction will start, where buses will be routed, or if there will be parking on side streets near her business.

“I felt like I was asking the right people, but I have gotten zero answers. You try and be proactive, but it’s hard to know even where to look or who to ask sometimes.”

Construction is set to finish on the east London link in 2025, while the downtown loop is expected to wrap up later this year.

More information about the city’s ongoing construction projects in London can be found at getinvolved.london.ca.


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