Cruel summer for University Avenue businesses in Provo

July 29, 2018

Cars pass by Cultura Bakery & Cafe, which is located on University Avenue, on Friday, July 27, 2018, in Provo.

It was a cruel, cruel summer for the many small businesses lining University Avenue.

Construction crews and equipment lined the street the past few months, breaking up roads and sidewalks and disrupting power and water supplies to the small businesses along the street. The construction is preparation for the new Utah Valley Express line that will run from Provo to Orem beginning next month.

Most business owners contacted by the Daily Herald feel hopeful that the new transit line will bring in more customers, but many have struggled to survive the last few months.

“It was awful,” said Lucy Wyssling, owner of Lucy’s Brazilian Kitchen. “Everybody was complaining about parking. We had people calling, ‘Where can I park?’ We got a lot of complaints.”

Most business owners like Wyssling front University Avenue, and their customers prefer to park in front of their store for a quick lunch or dinner. That wasn’t possible until just recently, because the street was lined with a wall of orange cones and barriers.

Wyssling’s business did relatively well this summer despite the disruption, and she credits that to loyal customers who braved the traffic and parking issues.

Next door, Dani Escobar of Cultura Bakery and Café also credited faithful customers who love the restaurant’s Guatemalan food enough to figure out parking. The bakery opened last August, and construction started soon after.

Besides parking issues, Escobar was frustrated by how long construction lasted.

“It took longer than they told us,” she said.

Another business owner echoed this, saying Provo’s former Mayor John Curtis told local business operators the bulk of the project would be done in chunks, and take only a couple of months. Instead, construction crews took over the entire University Avenue stretch from about 300 South to about 800 North in Provo. Construction of stations and some street corners are still ongoing.

Businesses also constantly struggled with noise, dust and mud throughout the process. A Vietnamese eatery owner further north said those issues slowed the customer flow because it wasn’t as enjoyable to eat amid all of the disruption and mess. Wyssling agreed, saying she is still cleaning out dirt and dust.

Other businesses, like Goldsmith Co. Jewelers, adjusted their business hours to better accommodate the juggle of construction and clients. Still others have had to take out loans to get through the summer. The businesses received no compensation for their losses, one owner explained.

Overall, now that the sea of orange is mostly gone, business is picking up, owners said. They are hopeful that, as students come back to local colleges and drivers adjust to the new traffic patterns, business will improve.

According to Mary De La Mare-Schaefer, regional general manager for Utah Transit Authority, the Utah Valley Express route will have a soft opening Aug. 13, catered to Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University students. Canopies and electrical wiring for the stations will be finished this fall. De La Mare-Schaefer said the entire project, extending from University Avenue to University Parkway, should be completed by the spring.

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