CUYAHOGA FALLS — Businesses along Howe Avenue want shoppers to know they’ll still be open.
During the year-and-a-half-long, $5.9 million project to reconstruct about 1 mile of Howe Avenue between state Route 8 and Buchholzer Boulevard, a portion of Howe Avenue will be completely closed for about a month, and the eastbound lanes will be closed for months at a time.
But by using access roads behind the businesses and other driveways, shoppers will still be able to visit all of the businesses along Howe Avenue, Main Street and Buchholzer Boulevard throughout the project to replace the current concrete material with asphalt.
The project starts April 29 and is scheduled to be completed by September 2020.
To help businesses prepare, representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation visited an estimated 200 businesses along Howe Avenue last week to explain the project, handing out flyers and answering questions. Details of the project are also available at howeavenue.com.
Business driveways on the south side of Howe Avenue will be maintained, with drivers able to make left turns into them, although each drive will be closed for seven days. Adjacent drives won’t be closed at the same time.
Candy store Mr. Bulky’s Foods, 434 Howe Ave., opened in 1986, one of the first stores to open in the plaza that now also includes Marc’s, T.J. Maxx and Giant Eagle.
Manager Joe Fallucco, who’s worked at the store for about a year, said he and other employees aren’t looking forward to the construction.
Fallucco said to prepare for an anticipated decline in customers at the store, which typically does 150 to 200 transactions a day and also sells nuts and spices, employees are working to build up the store’s online presence at mrbulkysfoods.com to allow online ordering and shipping.
"Uncertainty's not very good for retail,” said Fallucco, 25, of Stow. “People can't come in here, they're gonna find somewhere else easier to get to to go."
Howe Avenue businesses are hoping to avoid the fate of some of their counterparts on Main Street in downtown Akron, where all southbound lanes from East Market Street to University Avenue are currently closed as part of the Main Street Corridor Project.
Businesses are still open, and the city and others, like the Downtown Akron Partnership, are doing their best to encourage people to continue visiting downtown Akron.
But it wasn’t enough for Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar, which closed in February, citing the ongoing downtown construction as one of the reasons for the closure.
And the owners of downtown Akron’s Pots and Pans Jamaican Cuisine, 325 S. Main St., fear they could be next.
Niche businesses in Cuyahoga Falls, like Sound & Vision, 750 Howe Ave., likely will be OK during the Howe Avenue project.
"We're a destination store anyway, so people will find the way to get here," said Donnie Lyell, a member of the store's management team.
But El Papa's Mexican Bistro, 400 Howe Ave., which opened less than six months ago, might face more of a struggle.
Juan Rodriguez, 39, of Akron, who owns the restaurant with his family, said about 200 to 250 customers visit each day. He said business “is gonna be hurt a little bit, but not too much” because of the construction.
"It's bills to pay, rent to pay, tax to pay," he said of the project, adding that he hopes the project is completed quickly. “But it's OK. God [will] help us. It's gonna be OK.”
Clothes Mentor sales associate Jackie Coblentz, 27, uses Route 8 to get to work from Massillon, so she said the construction will be an inconvenience to her. It's also likely to negatively affect some customers.
"I'm sure it'll impact business, because we do have a lot of people that come in by bus as well. So, who knows how that's going to affect people in traveling to commute here?" said Coblentz, who’s worked at the shop at 564 Howe Ave. for three months.
Bus routes affected
During the first phase of construction, starting April 29, Metro RTA’s routes 7 (Cuyahoga Falls Avenue), 51 (Stow Circulator) and 53 (Portage/Graham) will follow a detour. No stops will be missed in either direction, but riders should expect delays on the routes.
During the second phase of construction from June to October, when Howe Avenue is closed to eastbound traffic, routes 7, 34 (Cascade Valley/Uhler), 51 and 53 won’t be able to serve Howe Avenue. There will be a supplemental bus circling from the Independence turnaround to the shopping centers on the north and south sides of Howe Avenue.
Buses will return to their normal routes when the second phase ends this fall, but when the third phase starts next April, the detours will start again. All detours and updates to bus service will be posted on akronmetro.org and Metro's Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Justin Chesnic, a public information officer for the Ohio Department of Transportation, offered the same tips for visiting the Howe Avenue area as those for driving in any construction work zone: give yourself extra time, obey signs, travel the speed limit and avoid distracted driving.
"It should be a pretty easy zone to navigate around,” he said. “The detours that we have are pretty short, pretty close.”
Some in the Howe Avenue area are looking ahead, past the road closures and inconveniences, to what the road will look like when it’s all done. Office coordinator Jerica Lance, who’s worked at chiropractic office Chapel Hill Injury Center, 716 Howe Ave., for about three years, is anticipating a smoother commute.
Driving in from Rootstown for work, Lance said the roads are tearing up her car, so she’s thrilled about the project.
The closures will likely affect patients getting to the office, she said, "but I mean, in the long run, it'll be better.”
Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.