By Jonathan Hoffman
It has been well over two months since construction began for the "modern streetcar" in Tucson. Segments of roadway were torn up to be rebuilt with the tracks in place. One of these segments is 4th Avenue between University and 6th Streets. 4th Avenue is the home of many local restaurants and merchants.
These businesses have remained open during the construction which began on April 9. Chain link fencing was put up around the street itself leaving the sidewalks open to pedestrians, but shutting down vehicle transportation and street parking. To get an idea of the impact on these local businesses, we spoke with Donna DiFiore, owner of 4th Avenue Delectables, a local restaurant of almost forty years.
Delectables restaurant opened in 1973 at 532 N. 4th Ave. In the early 80s, it moved literally across the street to 533 N. 4th Ave., at the time a Harley-Davidson dealership, where it is today.
While the restaurant is losing money during this period, DiFiore, with her decades of restaurant business experience, is focusing on the big picture. “The thing that's more important to me, is not the money that I lost, but the money I'm going to make. I think the future is very bright for 4th Avenue, and the whole [streetcar] route.”
DiFiore envisions many potential new customers parking their cars at Centennial Hall, boarding the streetcar, and using it to stop that different restaurants, shops, and events in the downtown area. There is also the new student housing high-rise with over 700 beds located literally next to her parking lot behind the restaurant.
In fact, Donna D Fiori is taking advantage of this slow period to remodel her kitchen and install an extended bar in the restaurant. She describes it as her, “Delectables 3.1 Project.”
According to DiFiori, the City of Tucson chose to perform the demolition and construction in four block segments instead of two. While this was a savings for the city, it greatly increase the period in which the affected businesses would lose money. Either the City or the Federal Government did, however, contract with Main Street Program to provide the affected businesses with coaching and guidance in dealing with the effects of the construction – free of charge to the businesses.
Meanwhile, The 4th Avenue Merchants Association (FAMA) began a number of promotions. One involves a raffle for an iPad in which any purchase at a construction area merchant gets the customer and entry, it's called “Dig to Win”. Another promotion is called the “4 x 4” in which the customer makes a purchase of $4 or more at 4 different businesses earning the customer and entry into a drawing for $40 worth of gift certificates for construction area businesses. Yet another is a discount promotion targeting the construction workers by which signs posted in the windows of participating merchants advertising discounts for those workers – this is a great way to increase the customer base by attracting those to the restaurant who might not otherwise come to the 4th Avenue area. DiFiore also reimburses customers for parking fees at nearby parking lots. She reports that the 4th Avenue merchants Association leased 160 parking spaces at the Baptist Church on the corner of 6th Avenue and 5th Street, which are available to business owners, employees, and customers.
The City of Tucson has promised that the construction will be completed in the fences will come down no later than mid July. The construction will then shift to the next four block section south of 6th Street. This next phase should be somewhat easier owing to lessons learned from the current construction; for example, there may be provisions made for pedestrian street crossing within the four block segment.
While the streetcar and the increased residential construction make long-term business prospects very good, the losses during construction are great. DiFiore reports that the lunchtime crowds that were filling 25 to 40 tables are now filling five to 15 tables. The businesses still must survive this down time to make it to the more profitable future.