Stony Plain Road businesses brace as Edmonton construction season looms

East Stony Plain Rd. to close until the end of the summer, prompting discussion around business supports.

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Stony Plain Road businesses are bracing for another season of construction but are still hopeful for a bright future.

Some say Edmonton has two seasons: winter and construction — a painful reality that Stony Plain Road businesses know all too well as they get set for another construction season for the LRT Valley Line – West. The construction has affected businesses in the area for the past year to three years, depending on the section of the road, prompting some to question whether the city could help support some of the businesses hit hardest.

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The latest closure went into effect on Monday and will run until the end of August. For drivers going east or west, the road between 129 Street and 139 Street will be closed. For those going north and south looking to cross Stony Plain Road 134 Street is available.

But the blockage isn’t restricted to motorists.

Pedestrian access to Stony Plain Road travelling east and west will also be closed until the end of August, though pedestrians can cross the road at 132, 134, 136, and 138 Streets.

“We made it through last year and I hope we make it through this year,” said Josh Lawrence, co-owner of Vi’s for Pies, located in the heart of the closure on Stony Plain Road.

Lawrence and the other businesses in the area are facing a shutdown of both foot and vehicular traffic, meaning any business they attract will likely have to be patrons pilgrimaging through the construction zone specifically for the restaurant. The vehicular traffic coming out of downtown was a particular loss for Lawrence, though he was relieved that the closure wasn’t as long as last year, which went until November.

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Further west, Dave van Leeuwen, owner of Ben’s Meats, is proof of the power of a destination-based business. Ben’s has, thus far, avoided the trials of construction directly outside the business, but the work is getting close. So far, van Leeuwen has been fortunate in that he hasn’t noticed much of a dip in sales, but he said his customers and the nature of the shop are more likely to blame for that.

“If it was me, if I just drove 40 minutes to a store across town, I’ll find a place to park — I’ll find a way to get there,” said van Leeuwen.

While Ben’s may have avoided the effects of the construction so far, van Leeuwen said that he feels for his fellow business owners down the street with construction on their doorstep. He suggested that it might be less disruptive to businesses in the area if the construction was rolled out incrementally, so as not to impact such a large area for an extended period of time.

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“They need to limit it to as little as possible,” he said.

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Businesses in the area knew that the construction was inbound, but the length of time has taken its toll, which Stony Plain Road Business Association (SPRBA) executive director Todd Janes spoke to in an interview.

“It’s like wearing braces,” Janes said.

His point is that the business community in the region acknowledged the need for the transit upgrades, which includes long-term benefits for them, but the longer the ‘braces’ stay on — or construction in this case — the less patient they become.

“Business owners are never patient,” joked Janes, “they want it done yesterday and construction on it started last night.”

The SPRBA represents more than 550 businesses from 170 Street down to 140 Street, including businesses on or near Stony Plain Road. Despite his joke, Janes said the member businesses in the association have actually been understanding of the work.

“Businesses understand that it’s going to take time, and there are trade-offs. I think they all see that. I think where frustration occurs is when that construction isn’t happening at a pace where we expect it to be.”

Janes said that some of the businesses have “guarded anticipation” of a time when the road and sidewalks in front of their businesses won’t be filled with views of open excavation sites, construction fences, and wooden planks.

“I think between the City of Edmonton and Marigold — the infrastructure partners — and us, that is the goal for this year,” said Janes.

The extended closures of roads and their effect on business caused a resurgence in conversations surrounding municipal support for areas subject to multi-year projects, which Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack has championed.

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Knack has brought a motion to council twice to work with small businesses in areas with multi-year construction projects. He said that while Stony Plain Road’s current situation is a good example, the idea was meant to be city-wide for other types of projects, too. Other cities have trialled similar programs in Calgary and Montreal, which the Canadian Federation of Independent Business lauded.

“There’s a concern around that notion of a slippery slope,” said Knack, which has caused the motion to stall in the past.

The construction is an investment by the city, and Knack said he wants to see those businesses make it through the construction to be the beneficiaries of the work.

Some worry that the support could be abused by businesses that don’t need it and are just looking to capitalize. Knack said the motions have been crafted carefully to avoid those pitfalls.

He is bringing the motion back a third time in June, having worked closely with some councillors who had previously voted it down.

Lawrence said he is “not very optimistic” about the possibility of municipal help, but he supported it for the businesses that need it. Van Leeuwen is also in favour.

“For ones that have (been) really hit and they can prove they’ve been really hit, I think there should be,” said Van Leeuwen.

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Twitter/X: @ZacharyDelaney

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