MANKATO — On Thursday, Pho Saigon was a hopping place.
Patrons filled the booths, the cash register was ringing.
It was just like old times.
Thursday at Pho Saigon was one thing. But if you’d stumbled into the Vietnamese restaurant on Madison Avenue a few weeks or a month ago, it was a much different scene.
“It was bad,” said Trong Ho, restaurant owner. “We got a lot of phone calls, people asking us if we’re still open. They’d be like, ‘Are you guys open today?’ And we’d say, ‘Is there a reason we shouldn’t be open?’”
Pho Saigon and other businesses on Madison Avenue have just been through a storm of sorts. The necessary march of road repairs came to their street this summer, and the ones The Free Press spoke with said they all had a reduction in business during construction.
Ho said his business was down about 40 percent. Over at Erbert and Gerbert’s Sandwich Shop, business for a time was down 35 percent. Farther down the road, Rivendell, a coffee shop in the former Dunn Bros. building, closed. And while they couldn’t be reached for this report, a sign outside their shop tells their story in a few short words: “Construction cost us $84,000.” They are now closed for good.
Thankfully, the major work is done. But it’s been a challenge to keep plugging along, business owners say.
Mike Steindl, owner of the Erbert and Gerbert’s Sandwich Shop on Madison Avenue, said they saw some decline throughout the construction, but it didn’t get to be too bad until the work progressed to the portion of Madison Avenue near his store.
At that point, Steindl said, drivers couldn’t get across Madison at all until they hit Highway 22 on the east side and Victory Drive on the west.
To mitigate matters, the sandwich shop used technology.
“We got really proactive in our email marketing and letting people know how to get to us,” he said. “It was inconvenient, especially for the last week and a half when you couldn’t get across Madison Avenue at all.
“But, to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” he said.
Communication from the city, he said, was key. He said the periodic emails from the city were instrumental for their planning. The business has a delivery component. To get sandwiches delivered promptly, drivers used the communiqués from the city to know how best to plan routes.
For Steindl, this isn’t the first time one of his stores has had to contend with construction. Several years ago his St. Peter store, which sits on Highway 169, dealt with the complete reconstruction of the city’s main thoroughfare.
“That was a lot worse,” he said.
Jim Viaene, owner of Quality Appliance, is also on his second time through on a major road construction project right outside his business front door.
A few years ago, the city undertook a major project on Victory Drive. And now, Madison.
“Traffic was congestive, and a lot of people wanted to avoid Madison Avenue for that reason,” Viaene said. “Luckily, most of our customers are repeat customers and they’ll find us.”
Like Steindl, Viaene said the city has been good to work with. He also said the construction ended up being not nearly as bad as he’d feared. He said it was probably worse for restaurants, which are much more likely to have patrons who stop in based on impulse.
Ho confirmed that.
“I had to lay off four or five people,” he said. “But we got them all back now.”