ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Light rail construction along University Avenue is on schedule, but the work has come at a cost. It’s taken a toll on many of the businesses along that street.

Around Valentine’s Day, Chocolat Celeste in St. Paul is approaching what should be one of its busiest times of year.

“Chocolate is a happy business. People come here to be happy. I want to be happy,” said owner Mary Leonard.

She is hoping she’ll feel the love from her customers this Valentine’s Day. The last year and a half has left her with a lot of heartache.

“It really is almost like starting over,” said Leonard.

She moved her shop off University Ave. and Highway 280 when light rail construction got underway because she lost customer parking. The move cost her a lot of business.

“A lot of people thought we closed permanently,” she said.

Without the traffic she was forced to cut two full-time employees.

“Our revenue is about half of what it was previously, but I haven’t been able to take home a salary,” she said.

Leonard is not alone. According to the University Avenue Business Association, 25 percent of the shops and store fronts along the stretch of road under construction on University Ave. are vacant.

President Jack McCann said for this are it should be around 8 percent.

“Some people took a large hit and they’re still here and they have three more years to stay here to realize the benefit of the rail. And that’s gonna be difficult,” said McCann.

He said a lot of people have avoided the area because it was such a mess. Currently, he said it is easier to maneuver.

“People are rolling through here, this is not a hard place to get around,” said McCann.

He expects people will slowly come back and a new million dollar marketing campaign funded by Corridor Project could give business a boost, too.

Leonard said she’s already changed her strategy and she’s hoping Cupid will help her out.

“We hope customers will start coming back (on Valentine’s Day),” she said.

Leonard has tried some new things to keep her business going. She’s been using social media and she recently did a Groupon to help drive people to her website. She is also doing specialized chocolates for corporations.

One of the difficulties has been letting people know where she’s located; just off Cleveland and University Ave. which turns into Transfer Road, near the Amtrak station.

The new marketing project is expected to start sometime in the next few weeks when construction picks up again. They’ll be spending $1.2 million to help bring people back to the area.

Comments (26)
  1. alligator says:

    light rail is a collosal waste of taxpayer money and should never have been implemented…..its no wonder our state and country is in the state of dysfunction that it is in when we have politicians wasting our tax money on projects such as light rail…..our gov’t icials have been running this country steadily into the ground the last 25 years with no end in sight.

    1. Sam says:

      @Alligator. How is a project that eases strain on rush-hour traffic, generates its own funds, reduces pollution, and allows people to eliminate the hassle of parking in Downtown Minneapolis a waste of taxpayer money?
      It seems to me that it’s an excellent solution. It gets people off of the highways, making it easier for me to get from point A to point B. Unlike the highways, which are a tax dollar black hole, you have to pay to use it, which means it is pulling in tens of millions of dollars every year, and that will only go up as the extended lines open.

      1. kevin says:

        Sam you are ingnorant of the simple fact that these kinds of mass transit “fiascos” NEVER make money, why???, because they will NEVER be widley used. Do yourself a favor and use the web to educate yourself before you run your mouth, look at the transit systems in SF, NY and I could go on…all money pits.

        1. stands with a dollar says:

          ….and the buses going to casinos

        2. robert says:

          You must be a Republician just like your friend alligator. You two are probably the first to complain about congested highways.

      2. RIII says:

        Metro Transit runs at a 69% loss:
        And it will only go up.

        1. me says:

          This makes no sense considering the Hiawatha line is always packed, especially during game days when they pack you in like a sardine….I don’t see how they can possibly be so far in the hole….I won’t say that they aren’t maybe taking a loss with the cost of operation…but 69%, with the ridership on Hiawatha alone????? They are obviously not running their business right.

          1. Nate says:

            It’s because the fare that all of those riders pay is barely enough to cover the wages of the union workers that operate Metro Transit.

  2. Kristin says:

    Chocolate Celeste has barnone the BEST truffles I’ve ever had!!!

    1. likesCCO says:

      I agree with Kristin! Some of the best chocolates around – expensive but worth every penny! Hopefully her business will pick up soon.

  3. jfscsd says:

    Why doesn’t LRT just go away..?

  4. DS says:

    This company is gong to make a killing once the light rail is finished. Get over it. That’s life, that’s business, you have ups, you have downs.

    1. RIII says:

      I don’t think so. The city will raise taxes on the propertys and rent will go up. With lost parking comes less people with disposable income. Also unlike a bus the trolly does not stop at each corner. It’s not like someone in a car that could stop and park and go in. No one on the trolly will.

  5. jodfrom says:

    Sounds like she lost most of her business because she moved it…

    1. Peace says:

      That’s right, she moved it because of light rail.

  6. Dennis Rowell says:

    oh sob sob cry me a river it’s all about location location she moved her shop people are on diets like you won’t beleive and no one has money to waste on expensive chocolates time to move on!!

  7. dontwory22 says:

    i trued her Chocolate once you can keep it

  8. Mary Leonard says:

    I think everyone missed the point. The only message I want to send is we have good chocolates and I’d love people to stop by to try them. I want to say that we have a beautiful new kitchen just off of University with parking, too. It’s Valentine’s Day. I’m not looking for sympathy. WCCO’s goal was to tell a story about LRT. That’s not the story I want to tell. I called the station when I saw the video to ask them to change the teaser at the beginning. It was already edited and up on the web. Things are not terrible. As it had an affect. I’d be lying to say it did not.

    LRT is here. If you want small businesses like mine to thrive, support them. If not, chocolate is available at Target and Walmart. Small businesses employ most of the people in the U.S. Think about it.

    Everyone take a breath and smile. Tell someone you love them…with chocolates, flowers and just kindness.

  9. Chocolate Lover says:

    I fought traffic, drove detours, climbed the highest bus stops to get Chocolat Celeste’s fine chocolates. Wat better than B.T. I mean B.T. is made with wax. Gross. Celeste uses the finest chocolate. I love her toffee, yummy!!

  10. Cindy Arnold says:

    Sounds like these complainers have never been business owners.

    Despite the bad economy, major annoying road construction Chocolat Celeste has survived and thrived because it is one of Minnesota’s treasures! These chocolates are world famous and delicious! And, are handmade right here in St. Paul. Instead of criticizing, you should just try one of the truffles.

  11. Jack McCann says:

    Everyone is allowed to like LRT or not like it. I’m the president of the business association in the story and have had to face the fact that LRT is going to be, period. It does not generate a profit, we tax payers subsidize every ride. Do a little fact checking and that can amount to several dollars per ride. Don’t fire off a comment until you check it. The Central Corridor line is being built without having done a proper study as to the negative impacts construction would have on local businesses. If the Met Council had done a proper study, the line would have been rejected by the FTA. A federal judge has ordered the Met Council to do a proper study for the third time. Is it OK that people should lose their business over a train line? No one is going to “make a killing” when it finally does run, they’ll be playing “catch up”. These businesses have lost between 27% and 41% of revenue the first season of construction. Some a little less and some even more than that. If you don’t understand the dissapointment these people have in this project I encourage you to start your own business, pour in your savings and hard work and long hours and worry and RISK. These people have and are facing a poorly planned government project coupled with large business losses. Like LRT or not, this project is unfairly putting people out of business.

  12. Connie says:

    Forget the overpriced roses this Valentine’s Day and treat you and your sweetie to the cities best hand made truffles! My fave flavor for this holiday has to be the Celestial Sweetie, Chocolat Celeste’s signature truffle flavor, “pure bittersweet chocolate ganache throughout!” Oh, its worth the drive to surprise someone with local, hand-made chocolates! Shop local and Happy Valentine’s Day!

  13. Andrew Paulsen says:

    I am personally for LRT, I am personally for Chocolat Celeste. I have known Mary for some years and she makes the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted.
    LRT has affected many business owners and I feel it can get better once construction is completed. This is not a forum to complain about tax payer money or that LRT should go away. Guess what? They already started and you missed the boat on that. LRT is on its way. If you want to do something beside complain, go and support local business and ensure they stick around. This goes for all shops dealing with this disruption. Complaining about LRT does nothing to support local business. YOU can make a difference. SUPPORT!

  14. Mary T. Buley says:

    While there are pro’s and con’s associated with light rail, the point here is to support our local businesses such as Chocolate Celeste! And what a great place to support. She has great products. Stop by and see her! What could be better then some excellent Dark Chocolate Truffles, Iask?

  15. Katherine P says:

    I agree with Andrew, I am both a supporter of LRT and of Chocolat Celeste. For those who are angry with LRT and small business owners, get out of your car, take the bus or LRT for a day, and stop by Chocolat Celeste for a Celstial Sweetie. Or if you are feeling hot under the color, grab some of her delicious chocolate with chili peppers. We all have voices but our actions speak the loudest. Speak your minds with your wallets and support small businesses like Mary’s. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

    1. Katherine P says:

      Or hot under the collar…….

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