It's not easy, but the new businesses at Acorn Alley have battled construction and all the challenges it brings for the past nine months.
This summer that battle is going to get tougher when Erie Street, their main thoroughfare for car and pedestrian traffic, closes for its complete reconstruction as part of the ongoing downtown redevelopment.
Kent City Engineer Jim Bowling said they're still working out the final time frame for closing the street to start its reconstruction.
"The earliest time though could be this June," Bowling said.
With possibly weeks to spare, adjacent business owners are bracing for an anticipated drop in business.
Gwen Rosenberg, owner of Popped!, said she's waiting to hire any employees until the construction is well under way so she can gauge its effect on sales at the popcorn shop.
"Obviously if it's really slow I'll put off hiring anyone until the project is done," Rosenberg said. "The first couple days that Erie was under construction was really slow for me, but it has picked up again since then. I'm still getting new people checking out all the new shops, so I take that as a very good sign that people are willing to put up with the dust to explore downtown."
Rosenberg said she has heard complaints about parking from customers and is concerned about access for disabled customers. A small parking lot near Acorn Plaza opened recently to give her customers with disabilities somewhat easier access.
"I stay positive and explain all the changes downtown and most agree that it's an improvement," she said. "I do anticipate a drop in business and I plan to focus my energy getting my website up and promoting it, so that I can continue to broaden my reach despite the temporary inconvenience of the construction."
Co-owner Mike Beder said, like his neighbors, starting a new business in the midst of construction effects consistency and is never an ideal scenario.
"At this point we realize there's nothing we can do to stop it, and (we) will just have to react when the time comes," he said. "We're fortunate that we have the drive-thru for people to access us from. We'll feel a pinch, but I think it will be a larger issue for some of our neighbors."
Beder said the time of year, however, is ideal for construction for his business.
"We have less students using the space to study, and the weather is nice enough that parking down the street and walking a little isn't as big an issue for people looking to use us as a workspace, for business meetings, or to visit with friends," he said. "Ultimately we realize that this will pay off in the long run when 300-plus people are heading to work every morning and we are selling coffee, muffins, pastries and sandwiches."
Tara Carman, who recently opened Carman & Pugh Photography in Acorn Alley, said she's unsure how the construction will effect her given that she's been operating under different circumstances from her new neighbors.
"The only thing I've done to prepare is ordered a folding sidewalk sign to increase our visibility," Carman said.
"Carman & Pugh Photography Studio is a little different than other businesses in Acorn Alley because we've been operating for almost a year without a storefront after we left our previous space to prepare for our move to Acorn Alley," she said. "Most of our new client traffic has been generated by word of mouth, our website and online advertising."
Carman anticipates the photo studio's grand opening will coincide with the start of heavy construction on the street.
"I do suspect that our business would see more frequent visitors once we open if Erie was not under construction, but I knew it was going to be a long project when we signed on," she said. "Our location on the plaza is going to help us get through the tough times and once the dust clears and everything is finished the area is going to be just amazing."
Mike Awad, owner of mediterranean restaurant Laziza, said he's not looking forward to the street work.
But Awad understands the necessity of the work and the value of its pay-off when the street is finished.
He's looking forward to a valet service Acorn Alley developer Ron Burbick is starting this summer for his business tenants. Visitors to Acorn Alley will be able to drop off their car with a valet, who will park it off-site and return it when the customer is finished shopping.