Turnarounds Almost Done, But Not Soon Enough

Until construction started on U.S. Highway 67/167 in North Little Rock in late 2002, David Claibourne Limited witnessed record-breaking sales.

But once construction picked up on the nearly two-mile stretch of frontage roads, customers stopped shopping at the furniture store at 5121 Warden Road, said owner David Underwood.

In the eight months before it closed its doors in March 2004, David Claibourne sales were off about $1.2 million, Underwood said.

"I just couldn't handle it," he said. "It made me close down. ... I bet our traffic flow was cut by 90 percent."

Business managers on Warden and Landers roads are mixed as to whether the construction, which will eventually convert the two-lane access roads into one-way streets, is affecting their ability to lure customers.

It's possible the roads will be converted to one-way roads by the end of summer, said Glenn Bolick, spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department.

The approximately $22.5 million project is expected to be completed by the end of 2005 or the beginning of 2006, he said. The Highway Department had approved the project to make traveling the frontage roads safer for motorists entering and exiting the freeway.

For nearly 20 years, momentum had been building in North Little Rock to make the roads one-way to reduce the number of head-on collisions. Trying to hit the openings in oncoming traffic leaving and entering the highway can be a stressful experience. As cars race down the streets, the only thing preventing an accident is a yield sign.

But when construction is completed, three "Texas turnarounds" will give motorists more opportunities to switch over to the other side and head in the other direction.

At McCain Boulevard and Trammel Road, the turnarounds will be elevated and cross over the traffic on U.S. 67/167. At McCain Boulevard, the turnaround is constructed so drivers won't have to fight with traffic at the McCain exchange.

Just south of Five Mile Creek, the dividing line between North Little Rock and Sherwood, U.S. 67/167 will be elevated so motorists on the access road can cross under the highway at street level.

Moving Sale

Some business owners said the disruption caused by construction of the turnarounds prompted them to leave the area.

In addition to Underwood's store, the House of Oak Furniture left its location at 5107 Warden Road three weeks ago to move to The Other Center at 4000 McCain Blvd.

David Lane, one of the owners of the store, said the road construction —particularly the shifting northward of the exit ramp that let southbound U.S. 67/167 traffic off at McCain Mall — was one of the reasons he moved after 12 years.

"If you haven't been over there, you should treat yourself, because it's way worse than when the exit was by McCain," Lane said.

Just before Christmas, the Highway Department moved the McCain exit ramp to the 5000 block of Warden Road.

Lane wouldn't say how much his sales receipts changed but "there was a noticeable adverse effect."

He said it's too early to tell how business will improve now that his store is positioned in the center of the L-shaped strip mall anchored by Target and Barnes and Noble.

Underwood said he would have liked to have kept his David Claibourne open in North Little Rock. Up until construction started, he had seen annual sales in the $3.5 million-$4 million range.

"I just decided when the lease ran out I was not going to renew it," he said.

Instead, he focused his attention on the store he opened at 14901 Cantrell Road in 2002.

The construction has also cost North Point Toyota at 5045 Warden Road, especially when the McCain exit ramp was relocated smack in front of the store last year, said Brian Nguyen, North Point Toyota's new car and truck director.

The dealership had to close one of its entrances because of the move, Nguyen said.

"It's a hassle for us," he said. "We'll pay for them to move (the off-ramp) if we need to."

Nguyen declined to say how much sales were off.

"It is not a substantial amount, but it would be enough to irritate the business owner," he said.

Furniture Row at 5430 Landers Road, which includes Denver Mattress Co., SofaMart, Bedroom Expressions and Oak Express, is in the process of moving its business up the street to long-vacant Home Quarters building at 3500 Landers Road. Gary Cisler, manager of SofaMart, said it was hard to measure the impact of the construction on his business.

"I don't think it has had a great impact," Cisler said. "I couldn't measure it if there has been an impact; it's all subjective."

Improved Sales

Still, some businesses — including several restaurants — have no complaints about the construction.

Shorty Small's at 4317 Warden Road has actually experienced increased sales over the past two years, manager Randy Johns said.

"(Construction) has not hurt us a bit," Johns said. "Now the interesting thing is going to be when it all goes one way. But I still anticipate business should be strong."

Tia's Tex-Mex at 4305 Warden Road has also been unharmed, said manager Jean Mouton. And one-way traffic should help Tia's, too, he said.

"It will probably help us because the southbound exit is before our store," Mouton said.

Still, most businesses prefer that customers be able to get to their stores from either direction.

Terry Hartwick., president and CEO of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, said the construction has affected all businesses in its path to some extent. While most of the car dealers have said they have had soft sales, he said it's difficult to pin that on the construction.

But Hartwick said once the construction clears and people get accustomed to driving on the one-way roads, business in the area should return to normal.

By then, though, it might be too late for Underwood's David Claibourne. Underwood said he doesn't know if he would reopen a store in North Little Rock because his location on Cantrell Road is doing so well.

"I definitely wouldn't do it on Warden Road. That looks like a war zone over there," he said.