FARGO - Weekday lunch hours at the Fryn’ Pan on Main Avenue are usually packed, as hundreds of hungry business people and retirees flow in and out of the family style diner.
But as noon neared Tuesday, June 12, there were perhaps a dozen tables with diners.
Instead of the usual loud, friendly rumble of conversation, the hum of the HVAC system was the loudest noise in the joint.
Breakfast and lunch - the heart of weekday business at Fryn’ Pan - has been chewed up by this year’s reconstruction of Main Avenue.
“Construction is taking a bite. But we’re surviving,” Manager Patrick Jones said, crediting loyal customers and the Sunday church crowd. “Lunch time is the worst.”
He’s counting on the intersection of Main and 4th Street to open in a couple weeks.
“Once Fourth Street gets open, that will help immensely,” Jones said.
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He won’t talk about dollar or percentage losses of sales. But he worries about getting his employees enough hours.
“Our business will be fine. But we want to make sure our employees are taken care of,” Jones said. “You want to make sure you have a staff, because this doesn’t last forever.”
The intersection of Fourth and Main has been closed since April 15. Since then, the only way to the restaurant is to approach from First Avenue South and go through the parking lot of the neighboring Professional Building and Surgery Center.
“It seems to me like they do this every other year,” Jones said, as 2017 also had closures on Main and 4th Street.
Next door, the gas pump islands are empty at Gateway Service Center.
“Business is down about 60 percent in the store,” Owner Steve Bettenhausen said.
Fortunately, the auto repair bays have stayed busy, he said..
Bettenhausen tries to remain positive. The city has put up signs. Construction workers stop by for lunch.
“We’re doing OK,” Bettenhausen said. “It’s better now than it was three weeks ago. Not a lot, but a little bit.”
‘Keeping it together’
Several major road projects in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo have turned the flow of customers to a trickle for some area businesses.
Main Avenue is halfway through the first year of a two-year reconstruction from the Red River to University Drive.
In southwest Fargo, 52nd Avenue South is being widened and two bridges are being built between 45th and 63rd Streets.
In West Fargo, Sheyenne Street is in the second year of widening and reconstruction from Interstate 94 to 40th Avenue South, while the eastbound I-94 bridge and the intersections with Sheyenne are being rebuilt.
In Moorhead, crews are working around-the-clock in a race to get the rail underpass project at Main Avenue and 20th and 21st Streets usable by the time the snow flies.
Cheek by jowl with the big ditch of the underpass is Tastee Freez.
The tiny treat shop has been hit hard. A long winter delayed its opening. Then construction season began, cutting off direct access and forcing the sundae-loving faithful to follow detour signs.
If that isn’t enough, the ice cream machine has been acting wonky, co-owner Jessica Malvin said.
“We’re keeping it together,” said Malvin, thankful for the community’s support.
Tom Schons is one of those supporters, determined to get his ice cream Tuesday.
“I grew up with Tastee Freez. I love Tastee Freez. I will get here,” said Schons. “I certainly don’t want to lose this one.”
Nearby, Justin Winters was enjoying lunch with his wife, Jadie, and children Jax and Jemma.
Winters said it is vital to support places like Tastee Freez.
“It’s important to do it for the businesses we only have one of,” Justin Winters said. “If you lose a Subway, there’s 80 of them. This (Tastee Freez) is the only one we have.”
Work on Sheyenne this year has meant ripping up the old road in front of the strip mall at 3330 Sheyenne that holds LakeMode Liquors and Omologato E-Cigs.
The effect on business has varied.
At LakeMode, “We actually are thriving. We have no problems,” Manager Stephanie Hussey said Tuesday. “When 2 or 3 o’clock rolls around … everyone starts coming home. This is their pit stop,” Hussey said.
Construction workers also stop by for water, energy drinks, snacks and beer
“And after work, they get their 12- or 30 pack,” Hussey said.
Omologato has been open just over a year and construction has been a pain in the keister, owner Avery Kraemer said.
“Right now, it sucks, but when it’s done, it will be nice,” Kraemer said.
Sales volume has been up and down and he doesn’t see a lot of new faces.
What helps is that he is also a wholesaler and makes CBD products.
“If we didn’t do all these things, it would be tougher,” Kraemer said, “We’re going to make it.”
A couple of miles to the southeast, workers are widening and rebuilding 52nd Avenue.
Kristi Bixby says the reconstruction of the road has “absolutely” hurt the bottom line of her Fargo Antiques & Repurposed Market at 5258 51st Ave. S.
“People will find us, because antique shops tend to be a destination shop,” Bixby said Wednesday, but “there’s really only one way in or out. It’s been very difficult, even for people with Google maps, to get to us.”
She tried to put up signs directing customers to her store, but was told to take them down.
“It’s been tough,” Bixby said. “We do have a big flea market coming up on the 22nd and 23rd, so we’ll see how it goes. We’ll weather the storm. It’s just very difficult.”
Across the parking lot, Rainbow Play Systems owner Ryan Carlsrud said he’s focused on marketing online. Since his territory includes all of North Dakota and Montana, that’s helped, but out-of-towners no longer have easy access.
“I have seen a downturn in my in-store traffic,” Carlsrud said, adding many of his calls are of the “How do I get to you?” variety.
“It will be nice to get it done,” Carlrud said. “Long-term, hopefully it will draw more traffic to this part of town.”
Kevin Gorder, an engineer for the city of Fargo, said the 52nd Avenue project is on schedule, though access points and detours may change in coming weeks.
“We’re trying to get in and out in one year,” Gorder said.
Ready for a break
Back on Main, Jones said he’s impressed by the workers.
“These guys, the ones that are doing this job right now, they’re out there Saturdays, they were out there on Memorial Day. … They’re working hard. They’re getting it done as fast as they can. From what I understand, they’re probably two weeks ahead of schedule, at least,” Jones said.
He hopes the roundabout at 2nd Street works well and traffic flows smoothly.
And he’s ready for a break.
“I would appreciate not having my street ripped up for at least another few years,” Jones said. “That would be great.”
Jeremy Gorden, Fargo’s Transportation Division engineer, said he has some good news in that respect.
The project’s completion was pegged for mid-October, but is a couple weeks ahead of schedule. After that ...
“We’ll be done with construction in that area for 30 years,” Gorden said.