Route 59 construction 'pretty tough' on Aurora, Naperville businesses
Road construction on Route 59 at the Naperville/Aurora border has done more than snarl traffic for the past year.
It also has put an added strain on some businesses that are losing customers who are reluctant to fight heavy traffic in and around the three-mile work zone.
One of those businesses, OMango Flavors of India at 1056 N. Route 59, Suite 100, in Aurora, has laid off four part-time workers because of the construction, general manager Ann Fitzgibbons said, and last week the restaurant cut its hours and changed its menu to "weather the construction storm."
OMango now is closed between 2 and 5 p.m. weekdays and is closing one hour earlier in the evening -- at 8 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is not open on Mondays.
On weekends, Fitzgibbons said OMango will serve buffets to offer customers choices while making food preparation easier on a smaller staff.
"For us, the goal is to sustain with this staffing model and this menu and then maybe kind of relaunch after construction when the road opens," Fitzgibbons said.
Construction on the three-mile stretch of Route 59 between Ferry Road and Aurora Avenue/New York Street that's being widened as part of a nearly $90 million state-led project is scheduled to be complete by September. Work began in August 2013.
"Certainly people are trying to avoid Route 59," Fitzgibbons said. "Communications from Aurora and Naperville direct them to avoid 59 and that's where we're located, so that's been pretty tough."
City transportation officials say they are actually directing people to allow extra time when using Route 59, not to avoid the road entirely.
But Fitzgibbons said she noticed a downturn in customers when construction began, and the problem got more noticeable when crews started making improvements to roads that cross Route 59, such as Diehl Road, North Aurora Road, Jefferson Avenue/Liberty Street and Aurora Avenue/New York Street. Those intersections are getting additional turn lanes and coordinated traffic signals.
Combine Route 59 construction and intersection work with the polar vortexes of last winter and the fact that it's winter once again, and Fitzgibbons said changes had to be made for OMango to stay afloat.
"The weekday lunch is probably the shift that's most affected," Fitzgibbons said. "We used to get a lot of folks from the businesses on Diehl and they're not coming down."
Instead of offering combo platters with a couple of curries, rice and naan, Fitzgibbons said OMango's "construction menu" focuses on foods that are quicker to prepare, such as wraps and curry bowls.
"We chose items we thought were most popular and really quick to execute," Fitzgibbons said. "We modeled it off the dishes that were popular in our food trucks because our food truck menu is designed to service people really quickly."
City leaders say they have heard from business operators who are struggling through the two-year construction process, and at least one business -- the Starbucks at 555 Fairway Drive off North Aurora Road and Route 59 -- has closed.
"We have had complaints about it," Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger said. "We've been working closely with the Illinois Department of Transportation to minimize disruption during the slower construction winter period."
He said the city also has eased its sign regulations to help businesses, and the story is the same in Aurora.
Spokesman Dan Ferrelli said Aurora is allowing businesses in the construction zone to get a permit to post temporary signs until construction ends. This is an extension of Aurora's usual temporary permit, which allows signs for 30 days for grand openings and special events.
Fitzgibbons said OMango might post a banner sign when the lane configuration is changed to bring drivers on 59 closer to the restaurant. But for now, she said a new sign is not worth the investment.
"You can't even see us anyway," she said.