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Central road construction

A car drives along Central Avenue while the road is under construction on Wednesday, August 8, 2018.

The challenge of being a convenience store that is no longer convenient can take a toll. 

Casey's Corner, a gas station and store at the corner of Central Avenue and 35th Street West, has cut its hours and laid off employees as road construction along its stretch of Central Avenue has diverted traffic away all summer.

In all, the store figures it has seen a 50 percent drop in business during road construction. Next door at Heiko's Bakery, business has dropped some but the store's regular customers so far have kept it afloat. 

"You weather through it and you continue on," said Susan Kaas of Heiko's Bakery.

The Kaases own Heiko's and have been anticipating the summer road work for a few years. They watched as the businesses along Grand Avenue between Zimmerman and Shiloh roads struggled through the the massive road construction there three years ago. 

Central road construction

Road construction takes place on Central Avenue affecting business traffic on Wednesday, August 8, 2018.

Susan Kaas kept in close contact with the city during the past two years to make sure she knew exactly what to plan for and what was coming. She also wasn't shy about voicing concerns about the potential impact on her businesses.

As a result, she believes, the city was responsive. 

"They have made sure they've kept at least one lane (of Central) open," she said. 

Sure enough, the city has kept one lane of the road open from 32nd Street West to 35th Street West, the end of the small business district there. The second half of the road project, the stretch from 35th Street to Shiloh Road, was completely closed through the first half of the summer while crews built a roundabout at 38th Street West. Another roundabout will go in at 36th Street West. 

It's similar to the work the city did on Grand Avenue between Zimmerman Trail and Shiloh Road over the summer of 2015. The street there was widened from two lanes to four and roundabouts were built. 

All summer long the businesses along that stretch nervously watched their bottom line while they waited for the work to be done. 

"It was hard," said Alice Parker. "During the time it was really hard."

Parker's parents own Grand Garden Chinese Cuisine, which sits near 38th Street West and Grand. Parker worked there at the time and remembers the struggle to keep things afloat. She still helps at the restaurant but now owns Nassella, a small clothing boutique next door

Surviving summer construction can be challenging, she said, so it's important people know that these businesses are still open. At the time, Grand Garden worked to get the word out that it was still open and accessible from Avenue B, the city street that runs along the backside of the restaurant. 

Plus, she said, eventually it gets better. 

"People found us again, and there was more traffic going through," she said. "So it's important to tell them (business owners) they need to hang on, they need to survive."

A.J. Moua works at Samurai, a few storefronts down from Heiko's on Central Avenue. Samurai is one of the few restaurants in town with hibachi grills and with a daily pho offering; they have a pretty dedicated following, Moua said. 

Central road construction

Kal Moua, owner of Samurai, stands at the counter of his restaurant on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. Moua's business along with others along his block are being affected by road construction on Central Avenue.

"We get a lot of regular customers," he said. The road construction "doesn't stop them from coming in. But we don't see a lot of new customers."

Moua's brother, Kalvin Moua, owns Samurai and is hopeful the widened road and new sidewalks will help steer new customers his way when the work is finished.

Many of the business owners in the area think of the road work as both an annoyance and a potential blessing. 

"Everything's all about accessibility," Kalvin Moua said. "We rely on the flow of traffic and ease of access."

Before the work began, Central Avenue between 32nd Street and Shiloh was a two-lane road with no sidewalks. Along the stretch are homes, a small business district, School District 2's vocational school the Career Center and Montana State University Billings' City College. 

During busy times of the day, traffic along Central could back up for blocks.

"It was crazy," Kalvin Moua said. 

So he's grateful for the improvements and hopeful it'll make Central easier to drive and that it'll move new costumers his way. 

Shiloh Commons

Crews work on a mixed-use building under construction at Shiloh Commons at Central Avenue and Shiloh Road earlier this summer.

That ease of access will be important as work on the road finishes this fall. At the end of Central Avenue where it intersects with Shiloh Road, Stock Development is building Shiloh Commons, a series of four apartment buildings that feature services, retailers and restaurants on its ground level with residential space on the floors above.

The first shops and apartments there are set to open in October. 

Shiloh Commons

Crews work on a mixed-use building under construction at Shiloh Commons at Central Avenue and Shiloh Road earlier this summer.

Back at Heiko's, Susan Kaas is pragmatic about the road construction and its effect on her business. 

"It is what it is," she said. 

The city has highlighted on the City Projects section of its website that area businesses are still open. The orange construction and detour signs placed on the roads around Central all include statements that business access has remained open. 

"The city has done a great job with it," Kaas said. 

Like Samurai, Heiko's is something of a destination business with a dedicated following. Susan Kaas hears from customers on a near-daily basis how grateful they are to learn she's still open. 

"They're still coming in to see us," she said. 

Still, the construction has worried her, and she and her husband won't rest easy until the road work is done and the business begins to return to normal. 

"These are bumps in the road," she said. "We're pretty confident we'll pull through."

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.