Over the past few months, Scott Kates said the number of customers who make their way into his two businesses on South Thor Street has dropped dramatically.
Scott Kates’ two businesses, Dogtown Co. and Wicked Glass, share a building smack dab in the middle of the city’s nearly $9 million reconstruction project of the Thor-Freya corridor. The stretch of South Thor Street in front of his building is now loose gravel, a pile of old asphalt and a maze of “Road Closed” and “Detour” signs.
Scott Kates co-owns the glass studio and head shop with his son Hunter Kates and said they used to average 50 to 75 customers a day, compared to just five to 10 customers since construction began. Only a handful of customers trickle each day into the pet shop next door, well below the 30-some customers they averaged prior to the closure.
“We’re hemorrhaging terribly,” Scott Kates said. “It’s ridiculous.”
The reconstruction of the two east Spokane roads are part of Spokane’s $101 million 2022 construction season, which includes resurfacing sections of West Riverside Avenue, improvements to the Hatch Road Bridge and the construction of a new 3.6 million-gallon water reservoir at the airport.
Work crews have been replacing the asphalt on the Thor-Freya corridor with concrete since early March, and work is expected to wrap up in late September. In the meantime, the closures and detours on the highly trafficked roadways are causing grief among commuters and local business owners.
In 2019, roughly 20,000 cars passed the Kates’ front door each day, according to the most recent traffic counts from the city.
Scott Kates opened Dogtown Co. 25 years ago as a single dad with two toddlers. He purchased the building that houses the current location 18 years ago, and the pet store has resided there ever since. He opened Wicked Glass with Hunter Kates just a few years ago, and Hunter Kates blows glass in a custom studio toward the rear of the retail space.
Scott Kates said the shops are facing several challenges as a result of the construction. Delivery drivers are having a difficult time getting close enough, and some are refusing to deliver at all. The city’s waste services have missed his dumpster pickup, and the removal of adjacent sidewalks has halted any foot traffic. He had to ask the city to put up more noticeable business access signs because the first one was hidden behind a road closed sign.
“I mean, besides the fact that I have no revenue right now, I still have to continue to pay these bills,” Scott Kates said. “I got insurance, I got the electricity, I still have mortgage payment. Although you still have the same expenses, you don’t have the income and the cash flow, so you’re relying on your savings in order to continue to do business.”
Construction on South Thor Street was slated to be completed by Thursday, according to the phased timeline on the city’s website. Phase 1 and Phase 2 are outlined as the sections from Sprague Avenue to Fifth Avenue, with the Kates’ block between Fifth Avenue and Hartson Avenue outlined as Phase 3.
Scott Kates said it’s clear construction still has a long way to go, and he and his fellow business owners in the area are frustrated with what appears to be a delay.
“Those first two sections should be completed by now,” Scott Kates said. “I don’t know what the holdup is. They shut the whole street down to get all the projects done at once.”
“I feel like they could have been a bit more organized and planned it better so they didn’t shut the whole thing down for three months,” Hunter Kates added. “Or at least communicate with us.”
Kye Twohig, the city’s director of engineering services, said that timeline is not exact because the phases are being worked on concurrently, and that the project is still on schedule to wrap up in late September. He expects construction on South Thor Street to be completed around July 4, at which time they will begin work on South Freya Street.
“We’re pretty much right on schedule right now,” Twohig said. “We’re still working on the Thor side there, a couple of the utilities are being finished in the area between Fifth and Hartson, and we’re doing some small handset concrete pours.”
Twohig said work crews will begin laying the new concrete surface on the section of South Thor Street between Sprague Avenue and Interstate 90 this week. A big concrete paver will make its way down Thor Street towards East Hartson Avenue over the next few weeks.
The Kates are not the only business owners feeling the pinch. Across the street at The Red Wheel Bar and Grill, general manager Shelby Gransbery said the construction has made it hard for her staff and customers to get to the restaurant. Normally at this time of year, their patio would be packed with patrons.
The restaurant has also had to hold off on launching a few of their summer events, including live music nights. While there are still regulars who make their way in, Gransbery said business is noticeably much slower compared to the past few years.
“It’s been hard, but the construction workers have been good to us,” Gransbery said. “They’ll come in here and get lunch and stuff, and Fred Meyer being across the street has helped us because people still need to get over there for groceries, and they’ll see that we’re still open.”
As the reconstruction continues, Scott Kates said he would like to see the city reimburse the local business owners for their lost income. He said with the current state of things, he is considering closing the pet shop and transitioning the space into a bar or tavern, and is checking with his accountant to see if he is eligible for a tax break due to the construction.
“Our biggest thing is we would like to be compensated for this because we’re hemorrhaging,” Scott Kates said. “Listen, we appreciate the fact that they’re putting in a new road. That’s great, OK, and that’s one thing. But then you should make sure that you’re getting the job done in a timely fashion.”
Work to watch for
Grind and overlay work begins next week on Riverside Avenue between Browne and Division streets, right outside of Spokane Fire Department headquarters.
The work will reconfigure traffic lanes on Riverside Avenue from Division to Wall Street to accommodate new bicycle lanes. Crews will also replace a water main.
Work on the project begins June 13. Downtown commuters should plan accordingly.
The northbound curb lane of Assembly Street will be closed with flagging between Northwest Boulevard and Olympic Avenue beginning Monday near the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center.
The southbound curb lane of Regal Street on the South Hill will be closed with flagging between 33rd and 36th avenues starting Monday.
The westbound curb lane of Riverside Avenue between Browne and Washington streets will be closed beginning Monday.
The west curb lane of Maple Street will be closed between Knox Avenue and Northwest Boulevard beginning Monday.
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