Utilities work has blocked several Alberta Avenue businesses from the street, and they say the clock is ticking
By Steven Sandor | March 24, 2022
There was a time when Aminata’s Hair Braiding and Beauty Supply had a staff of people working on their clients’ hair. On top of appointments, the salon would get five or six people a day walking in for services. The shop also sells hair-care products — some that carry expiry dates, so they can’t sit on shelves indefinitely.
The salon, which was set to enter its fourth year of operation, weathered the COVID storm. But it might not survive the sewer work EPCOR is undertaking at 118 Avenue and 88 Street. Orange barriers and concrete block off a number of businesses from the street. A deep pit has been dug at the intersection. Some signage suggests that the businesses behind the barriers are still open; but, looking from the street, they’re blocked off.
Aminata Fofanah, the owner of the salon, is working with her neighbouring business owners and the Alberta Avenue Business Association to make people aware of their plight.
“I had to let three people go because I can’t afford the chairs,” said Fofanah. “I know this work has to get done, but I am not surviving.”
Fofanah estimates that she’s down about $5,000 per month in revenue since the work started. She’s paid for parking tickets her customers have received from parking in nearby spots that belong to other businesses. Her walk-ins are now at zero.
“I am losing everywhere.”
Across 88th Street, Shady Darwish, the owner of City Liquidations, has already made the decision to close. At Koultures Afro-Continental Restaurant, business is down 90 per cent, said owner Teklewold Demie. In the COVID era, where takeout and delivery is the lifeblood of restaurants, drivers can’t park close to the restaurant’s doors.
This is not the first time Edmontonians will hear about a public-works project that has impacted small businesses. But, this time, the businesses are being vocal — and asking for compensation. With the help of the Alberta Avenue Business Association, they’ve invited Ward Métis Councillor Ashley Salvador and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to join them at the restaurant in the coming weeks so they can see the effects a major project has on the small, family-run businesses that are vital to the revitalization of Alberta Avenue.
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This Saturday, the public is urged to come down to the area and support these businesses.
Jay Ball, the executive director of the Alberta Avenue Business Association, says he approached EPCOR with two asks:
To stop work during the lunch rush
To put a stop-work order on the crews until an agreement is reached on how to compensate the affected businesses
“That’s the question we need to ask,” said Ball. “How do you compensate for the business lost?”
He said the ask to halt work during lunch has already been refused by EPCOR.
According to EPCOR, the Kinnaird Sewer Separation project site at 88th Street and 118th Avenue is expected to be a worksite till the fall of 2022. The business owners say they can’t hold on that long.
“I can go on for two more months,” said Demie.
He said that the noise and quaking from the tunneling equipment has disturbed diners who do make their way into the restaurant. Next door at the salon, Fofanah says items have been knocked off of shelves by the shaking.
Darwish, who will focus on his other shop at 123rd Avenue and 149th Street after closing the Alberta Avenue location, said that he and fellow business owners had zero time to prepare for what was happening to their neighbourhood.
“They didn’t give us notice at all. I came to work one Monday and saw them. The thing is, if you park illegally, two minutes after you park, the City will give you a ticket, and you pay it. But if they do something like this to you, and you complain, they just walk away.”
This is the issue; for major projects, utilities do have to give notice to property owners. Property owners. In italics. In this case, the information didn’t get to the people who were leasing the buildings.
Fofanah says her rent is $2,500 per month, and it’s coming out of her own pocket because her business can’t cover it at the moment. She’s cleared out half the space in the salon in the hopes of subletting it, but there’s been no interest in taking a space that’s blocked off from the street by construction.
EPCOR has said it will have answers to requests made by Edify on the issue by Friday.