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Blocked entrance adds to business woes

For business owners in a Charlotte shopping plaza surrounded by construction, their struggle to retain customers and boost profits has just become harder.

Part of the main entrance that once led motorists past a marquee to their storefronts is now blocked.

Danny and Amy Leon, who poured their retirement savings into opening CKO Kickboxing, drove to work one morning last month to find the main entrance to the Prosperity Shopping Plaza in northeastern Mecklenburg County cordoned off by barricades. Construction workers told them the part of the road where the entrance sits is permanently closed.

The Observer first wrote in September about the construction and how it was affecting small-business owners and their bottom lines. Since then, the Leons and other business owners say it’s gotten worse.

The plaza’s main entrance once sat on Prosperity Church Road, a key thoroughfare in the area. But earlier this year, city officials relocated that road to complete the last 5.7 miles of Interstate 485.

As a result, the road in front of the shopping plaza, which now dead ends, was renamed Docia Crossing Drive.

Businesses owners were adjusting to that change when they were hit with another: The part of Docia Crossing where the plaza’s main entrance sits is closed. Two blocks of Docia Crossing remain open past the plaza and will eventually connect with an I-485 access road, according to the city.

Because of the road’s closing, customers have been seemingly unwilling to figure out new traffic patterns to get into the plaza, Danny Leon said. The number of members in CKO’s evening classes has dropped from 30 to 15, he said, and the number of no-shows is steadily increasing.

He and his wife hoped to grow their clientele by 30 percent with 600 members by next year. So far, they’ve come up short at around 457.

“I feel like one of these punching bags,” he said at his gym. “It’s like every day, I get another blow.”

It’s an example of what can happen to businesses when construction-related disruptions take unexpected turns.

Harry Bowen, an economics professor at Queens University of Charlotte, said business owners in this situation can pool their resources to aggressively advertise, appeal to their landlord to make rent adjustments and even encourage customers to complain to local and state leaders.

Plans change

Since part of Docia Crossing is closed, motorists who would have used the road to turn right into the shopping plaza’s entrance must now swing around surrounding streets to access the center, said Doreen Szymanski, spokeswoman with the Charlotte Department of Transportation. Drivers coming from a Circle K gas station across the street from the shopping center are the only ones able to use the main entrance, which is down to one lane.

Road plans originally called for all of Docia Crossing to stay open, and continue to the I-485 access road. However, city officials learned that plan would mean road construction underneath an electric transmission line, which Duke Energy does not allow, Szymanski said.

Szymanski said these changes were first detailed about four years ago, but she could not verify whether these were addressed in public meetings.

That’s little comfort for Danny Leon, who said he and his wife were “kept in the dark” about the road’s closure. He said city officials did not tell them that part of Docia Crossing would be closing, though officials did travel to their gym to break news about the road name change in March.

He and his wife could have relayed information to customers about the closure if they had known ahead of time, he said.

“I’m just trying to carve out a comfortable life for my family,” said Danny Leon, whose wife recently gave birth to the couple’s daughter. “Just give me a fighting chance.”

Szymanski said the plaza’s landlord knew about the entrance closing and told the city he would inform his tenants.

The New York-based landlord, Albert Nigri, said tenants received a letter about the entrance. Nigri also said he’s asked transportation officials whether he can build a new entrance on a different side of the plaza.

Until then, plaza merchants are working to adapt.

Bi-Lo, which anchors the shopping plaza, plans to stay there, a spokeswoman said.

So does World Class Barbers, which has mounted a Facebook and advertising campaign to keep customers coming.

Ron Woolard has cut hair at the barbershop for three years. On a recent Friday morning, he had a steady flow of customers but said it’s difficult for new barbers to maintain clientele unwilling to circumvent traffic cones and barricades. At least one barber’s station is vacant and a “Barbers Wanted” sign hangs in the shop’s front window.

Shop owner Isaac Dorbor said he’s working to attract new barbers and shift his focus from the construction to making the best out of the situation.

“I’m just trying to hang in there and run my business.”

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