Hawley Street work bad for business in Mundelein

It's midmorning at the Caboose restaurant in downtown Mundelein - and the only people in the place are owner Brian Carman and employee Ciro Marcos.

The restaurant at 320 E. Hawley St. should be bustling with folks enjoying breakfast or grabbing coffee or snacks to go.

"But I got nobody in here," Carman says.

Carman blames the partial closure of Hawley Street for the weak business.

For the past three weeks, the roughly one-mile stretch of Hawley between Midlothian Road and Chicago Avenue has been limited to westbound traffic while crews rebuild and widen the road. Eastbound drivers have to use Route 176 or other streets as detours.

The Caboose, which is just east of the construction zone, isn't suffering alone. The owners or managers of several restaurants and stores along Hawley have experienced similar dips since orange-and-white barricades appeared on the street.

"Our lunch rush has definitely slowed down. I would say (by) about half," said Esmerelda Briceno, manager of the Taco & Burrito Express restaurant at 410 E. Hawley. "It's definitely not what it was."

Mundelein officials know businesses are struggling because of the roadwork. At tonight's village board meeting, trustees and administrators will discuss ways to alleviate the strain, possibly with a marketing campaign or other communication efforts.

"Of course, the most important thing is for the road to get finished as soon as possible," Mayor Steve Lentz said.

A two-year project

Notoriously crumbly and badly patched, Hawley is one of the main east-west streets through Mundelein. West of Route 45, the street is mostly residential. East of Route 45, Hawley is a commercial strip through the downtown area.

As part of an $11.7 million project, the road is being rebuilt and widened with a center-turn lane.

Lentz hopes a smoother Hawley Street will attract more drivers - and bring more shoppers to downtown Mundelein.

New traffic lights, sidewalks, storm sewers and water lines are being added, too. Mundelein and Lake County officials are teaming on the work, which began in 2015 and should wrap up in 2017.

The most disruptive phase started April 18 when that stretch of Hawley was shut down to eastbound traffic. Signs direct eastbound drivers to Route 176 for a detour.

Hawley's westbound lane will be rebuilt this fall after the eastbound lane is completed. For that work, westbound traffic temporarily will be diverted onto one of the new lanes.

Before the lane closure, Hawley saw about 8,600 cars daily. A current traffic estimate isn't available, but Lake County transportation officials say the number is down since the road went one way.

And that's hurt many of the businesses along Hawley.

Business is down

The Caboose Restaurant is east of Chicago Avenue and thus just outside the construction zone. Still, getting there isn't easy because of the barricades and detour.

Carman estimates the Caboose's business has dropped 30 percent in recent weeks.

"That first Monday was just brutal," he said.

Dedicated customers have found ways to reach the Caboose, Carman said, "but it's still pretty slow."

To compensate for the financial loss, Carman has reduced staff during lunch hours on weekdays.

The Caboose also has launched a delivery service - one that, ironically, especially has been a hit with people who work at businesses in the construction zone.

"(They) can't get to us," Carman said.

Potential customers have been avoiding the Flowerama store on the northwest corner of Hawley Street and Route 45, too, owner Elaine Hanusa said.

Not only is Hawley Street torn up in front of the shop, but construction barrels blocking a turn lane on Route 45 also block one of the entrances to Flowerama's parking lot.

Hanusa estimated her sales have slid by nearly 50 percent since eastbound Hawley was shut down.

"Especially the walk-ins," Hanusa said, "They just look and say, 'Yeah, I'm not going to try it.'"

The road construction couldn't have come at a worse time for Hanusa.

This normally is Flowerama's busiest season, thanks to high school proms and Mother's Day.

"That's our bread and butter," she said. "That carries us through the year."

Instead of celebrating the usual corsage and bouquet sales, Hanusa has cut employees' hours.

"It was even hard to pay rent," she said.

'Horrendous' traffic

The roadwork has been a topic of conversation at Hi-Rollers Beauty Salon, which is in the Hawley Commons shopping center on the southeast corner of Hawley and Seymour Avenue.

That's right in the middle of the construction zone.

Clients can't get to the center using eastbound Hawley anymore, so they have to take Route 176 or neighborhood streets to get there.

Additionally, cars turning into the center from westbound Hawley have to cross a bumpy lane of gravel to reach the parking lot. Right turns out of the center onto eastbound Hawley are forbidden now.

"Coming here, I went eight blocks out of my way just to avoid Hawley," said customer Katy Gruber, a Mundelein resident. "It takes a lot more time to get to the places I have to be."

Stylist Alice Batteau isn't happy about the Hawley closure, either. Traffic on Route 176, the recommended eastbound detour, now is "horrendous" every morning, she said.

"You sit bumper to bumper all the way back to Midlothian until you get to Route 45," said Batteau, of Grayslake. "And it's the same thing in the evening."

Can marketing help?

Mundelein officials are sympathetic to both the drivers and the merchants.

At tonight's board meeting, they'll brainstorm possible solutions. A promotional campaign, new signs and the creation of additional detour routes are among the options already on the table.

The session is set for 7 p.m. at village hall, 300 Plaza Circle. Lentz urged merchants to attend and participate.

"I'm sure they have good ideas that perhaps we have not thought of," Lentz said.

Despite the grumbling, merchants in or near the construction zone are optimistic business will rebound once the project is done.

Briceno is happy officials are fixing such an important road through town, and she's looking forward to seeing an improved Hawley Street outside Taco & Burrito Express.

"But they need to hurry," she said. "They need to hurry."

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  Esmerelda Briceno, manager of Taco & Burrito Express in Mundelein, says business has dropped 50 percent in the two weeks since eastbound Hawley Street was closed for reconstruction. Her restaurant is on Hawley, just east of the construction zone. Russell Lissau/
  Hi Rollers stylist Alice Batteau and customer Katy Gruber both say they've been inconvenienced by the partial closure of Hawley Street through Mundelein. The Hi Rollers salon is in a shopping center at Hawley and Seymour Avenue, in the middle of the construction zone. Russell Lissau/
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