February 8, 2010 in City

Eatery traffic yet to pick up

Market Street work is done, but business still lags for restaurant
By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

“We have the best spaghetti and meatballs in town,” Tony Ferraro says as he makes his special marinara sauce in the kitchen of The Steer Inn restaurant. The Ferraro family has operated the restaurant on North Market Street for about 20 years but has experienced a slowdown in business because of reconstruction on Market in Hillyard and the reconstruction of the Freya Street Bridge to the south.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

Plan ahead

A major traffic light installation at 44th Avenue and Regal Street is set to start this morning. “There will be lane closures and obstructions, so motorists should anticipate delays and may want to consider taking an alternate route,” Spokane city officials said in a press release.

On the Web: Find weather and traffic updates every weekday before your morning commute at spokesman.com.

Tony Ferraro serves a mean meatball and some tasty gnocchi, but he’s having a hard time getting customers to belly up at his family restaurant on North Market Street this winter.

Traffic to his Steer Inn on Market dropped off drastically last summer when the arterial street was closed through Hillyard’s historic business district for reconstruction.

For 19 weeks, a detour sent motorists away from Ferraro’s fast-food Italian restaurant at 3547 N. Market even though construction was several blocks to the north.

“The drive-through is what makes me go,” Ferraro said. “This was a ghost town here.”

Market reopened in November, but traffic has yet to return to its preconstruction level. That has left Ferraro and his business in peril.

Ferraro was forced to cut six jobs – half his employment force – and his family had to dip into savings to keep the business going.

This occurred after the family had invested in remodeling the dining area.

It’s tough enough competing with fast-food chains, but Ferraro, a former amateur boxer in Spokane, said it doesn’t help when the city closes down his main source of business: traffic on the Market-Greene-Freya corridor.

“We haven’t fully recovered,” said son Frankie Ferraro. “We have to get people back into the habit of stopping in here.”

The restaurant, which Tony Ferraro has operated for two decades, has survived largely on loyal customers from northeast Spokane.

Ferraro built his business on the basic burger, chicken and fried seafood offerings. In the past year or so, the Steer Inn has added an ethnic Italian dimension.

Ferraro emigrated from Italy with his family in 1962 and has a handful of traditional authentic recipes – family secrets – that he wants people to try.

This is the kind of place where if you don’t like the meatballs, they’ll think you have a fever or something.

He sells a plate of spaghetti for $4.99 smothered in his own homemade sauce, and the hearty meatballs are just $1.10 each. He also serves stromboli sandwiches and another Italian specialty, gnocchi – a potato and flour dumpling that his wife, Debbie, makes by hand.

Ferraro said the city could have done more to make sure motorists knew his business was still open inside the marked-off detour that began at Market and Euclid Avenue.

Traffic is still slow in front of the business, likely because the city has closed an important link in the arterial route to replace a railroad overpass on Freya Street. That project should be finished this summer.

City officials say they try to work with businesses to reduce impacts from construction, and Ferraro said he understands the need for improvements.

Still, he has a bad taste from last summer’s closure. “They leave you hanging as a small business,” he said.

Grant helps pay for new STA hybrid

Funding for one of 10 new hybrid diesel-electric public transit buses in Spokane came from a clean air grant obtained by the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.

The grant was originally for retrofitting school buses, but there was money left over. The agency was allowed to redirect $200,000 to help pay for the higher cost of a hybrid over a regular diesel bus for Spokane Transit Authority.

“Over its 15-year service life, a hybrid bus will also conserve about 33,000 gallons of fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 365 tons,” according to a press release from the agency.

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