La Jolla Shores merchants plead for customers to return now that Avenida de la Playa project is complete

"The Construction."

Those two words live on in such head-shaking infamy in La Jolla Shores that they require no other explanation to the hundreds of residents and more than 100 business owners in the area affected by the fours years of construction work that took place from 2013 to 2017 to replace the sewer and water lines under Avenida de la Playa and feeder streets, and all the outfall infrastructure.

The work went over schedule by at least two years and over budget by millions, and required The Shores' main street be torn up and fenced off, leaving businesses fighting for their livelihoods.

Completed in May, the dust has literally settled, but the business owners who suffered through the project are still waiting for those customers who once frequented their stores and restaurants to return.

A few cornerstone businesses closed, such as Café Solange in October 2015 and Shore Thing Café a year later. But these closures gave way to new merchants — Galaxy Taco, which opened in summer 2015, Shore Rider eatery in May 2016 and Cooper's Market and Café in summer 2017. Brick & Bell coffee house also opened a Shores location, and a clay-mation art studio is poised to debut. Other area businesses include offices, galleries, health facilities (such as dentists, chiropractors and physical therapists), restaurants, architects, hotels, and kayak and surfboard rental companies.

At the La Jolla Shores Business Association (LJSBA) meeting Nov. 16, several proprietors shared how the years of construction impacted their businesses. Tom Spano of Piatti restaurant reported: "The chief comment from our guests is that they are thrilled they are not driving through a war zone anymore and there is parking available. As far as business goes, I think we're up a bit since the construction ended."

Ocean Girl apparel shop owner Terry Kraszewski countered: "But I don't think we're where we should be. There were so many people who were inconvenienced for four years that they've found other places to go, to be honest. During the construction, parking was a chronic problem and I don't think we have everyone coming back yet."

Surf Diva co-owner Izzy Tihanyi added that in the course of planning the annual community Fall Fest (in October): "We invited people who told us they had not been back here in five years just because of the construction. They bypassed this area for the longest time and most people don't know the construction is now completed. So now, hopefully they start to come back."

Rusty Surfboard vice-president and LJSBA president Angie Preisendorfer agreed: "It's hard to change people's habits. With the 100 businesses from the gas station to the La Jolla Shore Hotel, we've all suffered."

"The Construction" faced delay after delay for four years, with the only respite being the summer construction moratorium from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Plans combined an infrastructure replacement project and Sewer & Water Group Job 809 (to replace 630 feet of underground sewer and water lines) into one project. But everything from ill-fitting infrastructure to a sinkhole meant the job could not be completed until just a few months ago. It came in at $4 million over budget, bringing its total cost to around $11 million.

Still, construction work in The Shores is not yet complete. The City estimates that nearly all residential areas in San Diego will be undergrounded within the next 53 years. The plans call for all overhead power lines to be transferred underground, and all utility providers involved will install their conduits in one trench. The Shores undergrounding plans are in the "design" phase and it's still not known when the work will begin.

Once the undergrounding is complete, impacted streets throughout The Shores will be repaved, initiating a five-year moratorium during which no work that involves trenching can take place.

Learn more about the businesses in La Jolla Shores at: enjoylajollashores.com

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