Improvements burden biz owners

Downtown Topeka has been under construction for months, but how has this been affecting the local community and business owners?

A short walk down Kansas Avenue you can visit the epicenter of the battle to stay in business.

“No one likes to deal with the construction while it’s happening. said Carol Casale, co-owner of downtown retailer BOHOMojo. “I’m excited about the changes that will be here once it’s completed. I think they’ll help downtown in general.”

The drop in traffic has been devastating to some area businesses. Even at BOHOMojo, where they work hard to provide an appealing storefront and interior, business is still far below what she would normally expect for this quarter.

There is some bright news for downtown, however, as Casale points out,

“I was happy when I came to work this morning and they have the forms down. You can start seeing the improvements take shape instead of a pile of dirt.

Right next door, Lupitas Mexican Restaurant relies on customer loyalty to deal with the construction.

“Lupitas has been family owned and operated for 20 years,” said owner Luis Fernando Muñoz. “Some of the businesses downtown are hurting really badly – we’re hurting really badly, but luckily we’ve been here 20 years and we’ve established enough clientele along the way that most of them are helping us out. So we’re doing okay. The back-to-school week hurt us on top of the construction. Back-to-school week everyone spends money elsewhere so right now we’re hurting really badly. “

Muñoz runs a Facebook and Twitter page, as well as a YouTube channel called Fernievision, where he postes a series of videos that aims to not only help Lupitas, but all of downtown Topeka, by bringing positive attention to the area. Muñoz tries to call attention to the issues that affect his business as well as his neighbors in a format that is friendly to both English and Spanish speakers.

“We can’t just blame the construction for the problems some downtown businesses are having,” said Muñoz. “The construction itself has really affected us in positive and negative ways. Of course it’s hurting business but a positive affect has been that it’s brought people together to help pull us through – we all know the power of social media.”

Some of the intended improvements include public squares and plazas located behind existing property lines that accommodate events, performances and general public use. Other potential additions to the strip of Kansas Avenue that runs through out downtown includes a water instillation for children to play in; much like the Jackson Spray Park in East Topeka.

While business owners wait with bated breath for the day when the bulldozers drive away and the new and improved downtown comes alive Casale, along with the her fellow downtown entrepreneurs, hopes that Topekans will weather the storm with them.

“Take a chance,” said Casale. “Come visit downtown.”