Construction near Van Ness has altered the entrance and exits of nearby businesses (PSS Innovations)
Construction near Van Ness has altered the entrance and exits of nearby businesses (PSS Innovations)

Endless construction is killing small businesses throughout the District, with some reports comparing sidewalks such as those in front of 1350 Connecticut Ave in Northwest to an open mine shaft.

Other places including near Dupont Circle, and along 19th Street in Northwest and Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Southeast, are also seeing increased construction activity that, in many cases, decrease traffic to small shop owners thus curtailing much-needed business.

“There’s no inclination to think, ‘Oh, well, what can you do? It’s D.C.,’” Anna Fuhrman, the owner of Proper Topper in Northwest, told a local news organization this week. “But I spend so much time promoting D.C. and talking about how great D.C. is, that it’s a gut punch.”

Oftentimes business owners and pedestrians aren’t informed why a street or sidewalk is being torn apart. Few are even told who’s behind the work or who to contact to make a complaint.

The D.C. Department of Transportation’s road-closure permit stipulates what signage and information are required, but even when it’s done properly — and Fuhrman reportedly thinks it wasn’t in her case — it’s often inadequate.

This week, Councilman Kenyan R. McDuffie introduced a bill to support small businesses from suffering financial distress from District infrastructure projects. The bill would provide immediate relief for qualifying small businesses including those affected by the DC Water Northeast Boundary Tunnel construction at 4th Street NE and Rhode Island Avenue NE, as well as businesses affected by Monroe Street NE bridge reconstruction.

The legislation would provide emergency financial assistance to eligible small business within five hundred feet of construction on District-owned or financed infrastructure.

Small business owners would have to be able to demonstrate loss of revenue that leads to a difficulty in paying obligations, including utility costs, rent, and other overhead.

“Our small and local businesses are the drivers of our economy,” McDuffie said. “They tend to hire locally and spend locally, keeping their dollars circulating in our community. With this infrastructure project negatively impacting small businesses, I knew I had to act.”

The bill would provide relief for qualified small businesses and their employees by “mitigating the financial hardship experienced because foot traffic and the number of customers are significantly impacted by capital infrastructure projects,” McDuffie said.

Business website listed seven tips for small businesses affected by ongoing construction:

1. Be informed ahead of the curve. Governments should notify businesses about pending construction well in advance. The Chamber of Commerce and other business associations also are good sources, especially if you’re already a member. But don’t count on them completely. Make it a habit to spend 15 minutes once a week checking city, county and/or state Department of Public Works and Department of Transportation web sites, where such projects are always posted.

2. Build a dedicated cash reserve. The reality of construction is that your walk-in sales are likely to be cut.

3. Form alliances and pool resources.

4. Use a group web site to market and communicate your presence. At the very least, a web site reminds people that you’re still there; used the right way, it can become a driver that helps offset lost walk-in business.

5. Ask the government in charge if it has a construction mitigation program. The University of Wisconsin researched exactly how they help businesses during construction. The study revealed that only eight provide direct cash or loans, but it turns out there are many other forms of assistance. For example, some cities relax zoning laws to permit business signs in places normally off-limits; others relax parking requirements.

6. Make friends with the construction contractors and crew. You may even be able to enlist these folks in your cause.

7. Utilize the media, carefully. Being the put-upon little guy doesn’t work in your favor if you don’t craft your message properly. If possible, choose one articulate spokesperson to represent your group. Don’t generally complain about the situation; be specific about a problem or violation (if one exists) and suggest solutions. And don’t call or email a news organization every week expecting coverage – choose your few story opportunities selectively.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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