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Businesses Get Small Boost During LRT Construction

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By Lindsey Seavert, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Businesses affected by the Central Corridor light rail construction are getting a small boost.

Many businesses say they need to hang signs outside their stores, showing detoured customers they are still open for business. That normally requires a permit and fee.

The St. Paul City Council voted two weeks ago to waive that fee, to make it easier for struggling businesses. It seems something as simple as a sign could be key to survival.

On University Avenue, the course of construction has changed dinner hour at Caffe Biaggio.

This week, owner Shari Breed notices empty tables.

“Every day seems like a new obstacle to make it harder for customers to get to the restaurant,” she said.

So, she’s fighting what could eat up her profits by hanging up signs, showing customers the restaurant is still open as crews dig the Central Corridor light rail line.

“We thought we’d better do it now because you don’t have a big margin in the restaurant business. So if you lose 20 percent and your profit margin is 15 percent that is not good,” she said.

Up and down University, signs and specials beg customers to keep coming.

The St. Paul City Council will now allow businesses to hang up these signs without the usual fee but many are doing more to keep doors open.

At Raymond and University, businesses like a nearby liquor store hope a Central Corridor perks card lures in customers. Get the card and you’ll get 10 percent off inside the store.

Further down University, Subway is offering discounts on sandwiches, and to get those savings, customers can download a mobile app from their phone. And on Fairview and University, a furntiture store hopes their “Open for business during construction” sign is a sign of survival.

Breed just hopes by the time construction is through, customers haven’t lost their appetite for local business.

“Hopefully we won’t have to cut hours and staff too much,” she said.

The St. Paul City Council also voted to allow the business to hang the signs up for the duration of the construction, when normally they could only put the signs up for 90 days.

The nearly $1 billion project is expected to be completed in 2014 and will stretch 11 miles long, linking downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis through Washington and University avenues.

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