Jooley Heaps has noticed a difference in business at her Pacific Avenue store since the city started construction work outside it.
"There is none, " she said.
Her novelty gift shop, Poison Apple, is one of the businesses affected by the portion of the Pacific Avenue Streetscape project that started Jan. 2 between South Ninth and 13th streets. It's part of a larger effort begun in November to make over 10 blocks of downtown's Pacific Avenue.
This section of the upgrade is scheduled to take 12 weeks and is affecting the east side of Pacific Avenue, though the 900 block, where Heaps' store is, should be blocked for only half that time. Crews have made pathways around their work so customers can reach businesses, and have blocked off street parking in the 900 and 1000 blocks.
To get to her shop, Heaps said, customers must walk through a maze of orange mesh barriers and AstroTurf.
She admits the store, which sells items such as skull dresses and stickers, has never been busy. But since construction started, it's been all but dead.
"I'm definitely worried about not being able to stay open, " Heaps said. "My shop is a specialty shop, and it's not like everybody is coming here for lunch every day. It looks like a giant mess out there. I don't know what to do."
The roughly $8.3 million streetscaping project, funded through federal and state grants and $1.75 million from the city, will upgrade Pacific Avenue from Old City Hall at South Seventh Street to the Tacoma Art Museum at South 17th Street.
Part of the current work is removing trees whose roots have destroyed the sidewalk and replacing them with ones that have boxes to contain the subterranean growth. Workers will also install some of the project's 14 rain gardens, designed to naturally treat stormwater before it flows into the Thea Foss Waterway.
Les Voros-Bond and Caroline Dennewith, co-owners of Dorky's Arcade at South Ninth and Pacific, said it was too soon to tell how their bar arcade business is being affected. But they're frustrated with the lack of parking for their customers.
The city is offering 25 free coupons to businesses each month for parking at the Park Plaza North Garage a block away, but that hardly accommodates the hundreds of patrons Dorky's sees nightly, its owners said.
Additional coupons are available at 25 cents each, according to the city.
City officials did everything they could to reach out to Pacific Avenue businesses for feedback about the construction and to accommodate their needs, project manager Steve Rich said.
"We're doing everything we can so that we don't impact the business, " he said. "And the public isn't seeming to stay away so far."
Throughout the project city officials have encouraged workers to patronize nearby businesses, such as for lunch and coffee, he said. They also held public meetings, and visited business owners before construction began.
Voros-Bond and Dennewith said they were among those who "begged" the city to start the project in the summer, when more customers are on foot and business generally is slower.
Rich said that schedule wouldn't work for all affected businesses, given the 11 months the project will take. Some areas won't see construction until summer.
The city put the project on hold from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day to accommodate the busy holiday season.
The Pacific Avenue project was promised in 2008 as part of a campaign to keep Russell Investments and kidney care company DaVita in the city, both of which were considering leaving.
Russell moved to Seattle in 2010, and DaVita will move about a third of its operations to Federal Way by April.
"The city is so eager to get this new business here that they are disregarding all the businesses that have worked so hard to better downtown already, " Dennewith said, speaking generally about the city's goal of improving downtown business opportunities with the makeover.
Sohn Randhawa, owner of the Indian Mahal Restaurant across the street from Dorky's, said the parking situation has been tricky but that the project has mostly been OK.
But, he said, "They have to finish quickly."