ST. CHARLES – Marwan Taib cannot wait for Halloween to arrive this year.
For almost a year and a half, Taib, owner of the Spotted Fox Ale House on East Main Street, just east of Kirk Road, has endured some frightening times as he has worked to keep his restaurant business afloat without the luxury of an easy way for his customers to drive to his establishment.
“Things have been picking up lately,” Taib said. “But it’s still not what I would call good.
“I’m really looking to Halloween and the Christmas holidays, to have people coming back here.”
At the end of this month, the Illinois Department of Transportation is expected to complete most of its nearly 18-month-long project to reconstruct and widen Route 64 from Seventh Avenue in St. Charles to Route 59 in West Chicago.
That roadwork began in April 2012.
The impacts of the roadwork on many businesses along the stretch of highway have been dire, particularly for shops that rely on regular customer traffic.
Among those businesses that failed during the construction were the Wendy’s fast food restaurant near Dunham Road and the Odyssey Greek restaurant near East Main Street and Kirk Road. Both those restaurants closed in July, according to a report supplied by the city of St. Charles.
Taib opened his restaurant shortly before the roadwork began and said the traffic into his place was so strong, he thought he had “found a gold mine” in the location.
But after the roadwork began and Route 64 was converted to a maze of construction barricades, dusty work zones and bumper-to-bumper traffic at many hours of the day, customers became harder to unearth, he said.
The slowdown was particularly noticeable among his clientele from West Chicago or from west of the Fox River.
“It was pretty brutal,” Taib said.
He said the slowdown caused a number of his employees to quit because there wasn’t enough work for them. However, as the work has been gradually completed, the customer traffic has increased.
And when the state finally clears away the last of the barricades and work zones from the highway east of St. Charles, Taib said he believes his customer traffic will “finally get back to where it used to be.”
“We endured the really bad days,” Taib said. “And now, hopefully, we get to enjoy the benefits the new road brings.”
Local commercial real estate professionals said they believe the “East Gateway” corridor, as the area around the intersection of Route 64 and Kirk Road has been dubbed by the city of St. Charles, may be primed for a resurgence.
Kevin O’Donnell, president of O’Donnell Commercial Real Estate in St. Charles, said he has heard numerous reports of increased interest in a variety of properties in that region.
“There’s no question that North Avenue (Route 64) hurt us,” O’Donnell said. “But now that access is back there again, activity has picked up now as well.”
He said landlords in the area have gotten creative in recent years, offering various special deals, such as free rent for a number of months, to attract tenants without reducing rents drastically.
“They’re being more aggressive,” O’Donnell said.
Neil Johnson, managing director and broker at Sperry Van Ness Landmark Commercial Real Estate in Geneva, said that area still offers a large amount of vacant storefronts, with more than 100,000 square feet of vacant retail space within a mile of Charlestowne Mall.
But he said in recent weeks, “leasing volume has increased in almost every sector,” including retail and office.
“Some of that new activity is clearly showing up in the East Main Street area for retail and restaurant leases,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Rita Tungare, community development director at St. Charles City Hall, said they are hopeful the area will get a double boost in coming months, both from the completion of the Route 64 roadwork and the promise of renovations at Charlestowne Mall.
New ownership has presented St. Charles City Hall with plans to revitalize the mostly vacant shopping mall, and Tungare said they couldn’t arrive at a better time.
“We think these improvements have the potential to create positive energy and some catalytic effects in that area,” Tungare said.
She already said the city has witnessed an increase in the number of inquiries regarding zoning and permits for that area.
“With the Route 64 work completing and Charlestowne coming up, the timing has worked out pretty well,” Tungare said.