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Willy Street Road Construction!

If you live in the neighborhood of our namesake I hope you already know that Williamson Street will be completely reconstructed and that the project will begin in just over one month!

It is important you know about the street reconstruction and about the potential it has to affect not only your business, but all the businesses—and their owners and employees—on and around Williamson Street. In a future article, we’ll describe the project’s outcomes in more detail, but here I’ll emphasize the project’s impact on business. I’d be remiss in not portraying the struggles all businesses in this nook of the City expect to face this summer, so I’ll certainly touch on our neighbors’ needs.

Predicted effect on the East Store
In 2009, Anya Firszt (our GM) and I attended a workshop put on by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce (GMCC). I’ll share an excerpt from the Road Construction Survival Guide, a joint publication from GMCC and the City of Madison that we first became aware of at that meeting:

According to a recent survey by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advisory Council (SBAC), an advisory group to the chamber and Madison Mayor, 68% of the business respondents indicated that their revenues declined during a road construction project. Equally alarming was that 54% of the same respondents indicated their business did not return to prior levels after completion of construction, and for some continued to decrease.

We immediately started grilling City engineering and, in particular, the staff at the City’s Office of Business Resources (OBR), who felt that our particular business might “only” suffer 15-33% loss in sales. Michael Gay explained that businesses offering less unique products and services had been known to lose 50-60% of their business. But even 15% was still a very serious prospect.

A 15% loss in business would translate, ideally (in order not to overstaff the business), to scaling back the labor by about 70 eight-hour shifts per week. Of course we will do everything we can to keep from impacting our employees’ livelihoods. Our department managers are very good at creatively adjusting labor to suit need without forcing employees to lose hours. But I think you’ll understand why we’re asking you to keep shopping here—and at all neighborhood businesses.

Scope & Timeline
Here are the vital details of this project. More can information can be found at: cityofmadison.com/engineering/williamson.

  • The project is scheduled to begin on April 11th and will extend into October or November.
  • It encompasses all of Williamson from Blount to S. Thornton.
  • During most of the summer, Williamson will become a gravel, single-lane, one-way street. Traffic will be West, or inbound.
  • A block of S. Ingersoll from Willy to Jenifer will also be resurfaced.

And yes (drumroll please), we are told that the abrupt transition between the street and the sidewalk in our Williamson St. driveway will be made dramatically smoother.

What we’re doing
I hope by now it’s obvious what a few of the most significant things we have in place to help our business through this road construction are:

Owners: Our most important advantage, in my opinion, is you, our dedicated Owners. I believe your support and figurative investment in the Cooperative will make continuing to shop at Willy East and on and around Willy Street itself a real priority for you.

Driveway: We’ll be opening that driveway for you all to get used to on the 15th of this month. Please read more detail about the Jenifer Street driveway in the sidebar to this article.

Willy West: Maybe best of all, at least from the financial health of the entire Co-op’s perspective, the timing of this reconstruction has worked out beautifully with the opening of Willy West. If you absolutely cannot manage getting to East during construction, shopping at West will still help us tremendously.

Parking lot—open to other businesses: One of the biggest challenges patrons of all Williamson St. businesses will face during construction is parking. There will be no parking on Willy all summer! We will continue to allow patrons of neighboring businesses to leave their cars in our lot while they run to another business or two. We will also relax our parking restrictions during construction such that shopping at the Co-op will not be required in order to use our lot. We will very strictly enforce our two-hour parking limit—and, depending on Owners’ needs may reevaluate that restriction as this summer’s parking patterns emerge (it’s an expensive ticket, so please keep track of time and read our signs carefully). Finally, as we always have, we’ll allow residents and bar and restaurant patrons to use the fire-station side of our lot overnight so long as their cars are gone by 9:30am. Please note, we will have cars in other areas of our lot ticketed and towed. The East or main portion of our lot must remain clear for deliveries. Please see willystreet.coop/parking for more details.

Some of the other things we’ve done or will be working on or expanding in order to help you help you to comfortably continue to shop with us during construction include:

  • Co-Shop! If you’ve never done so, take an opportunity to visit shop.willystreet.coop and leave the driving to us! Our Co-Shop team will shop for you, deliver for you, or, of course, both!
  • Bicycle Benefits. We now proudly offer more bicycle parking than car parking! We have approximately 30 bike spots (plus more dedicated only to staff to keep customer parking open). We’re also members of the Bicycle Benefits program (bicyclebenefits.org) and are considering temporarily improving the benefit we provide to cyclists who shop at Willy East during road construction.
  • Free bike trailer and pedestrian grocery cart “rentals.” We’re finishing up the details of a project we hope to keep permanently that will offer bike trailers and pedestrian carts to shoppers who find it easier or more beneficial to walk or bike to our store. Look for details about this in the store and in the Reader soon.
  • When-to-shop chart. We’ve moved and will keep updated our guidance on the least busy times to patronize our stores. Visit www.willystreet.coop/when_to_shop for more info.

What you can do
The best thing you can do to support Willy East and its employees is to keep shopping here! The second best thing would be to give our West store a try if you haven’t checked it out—we’ve got an awesome store in Middleton and we may be able to move employees who need hours there if necessary.

How to get to Willy East this summer: Out of respect for the residents of our neighborhood we ask that you use arterial roads to get to the Co-op and to other Williamson area businesses this summer. No matter from where you are coming, we recommend ending with East Washington to South Baldwin to Williamson Street. Because of added stress on neighborhood streets during construction, please use our Jenifer Street entrance only when really necessary.

Beyond that, you can help spread the word. We, along with many other businesses on this street, are excited not only about the outcome of this project, but to continue to serve you throughout it.

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