It was 5 o’clock and the sun was setting on Richmond’s Marina Bay waterfront. Three couples sat in booths along the veranda at Salute E Vita Ristorante, enjoying the view on a recent Thursday evening.
“The veranda and bar should be filled (with customers),” said Traci McWain, manager at the Italian eatery.
Business has steadily declined since Marina Bay Parkway was shutdown in September to begin construction on the Officer Bradley A. Moody Memorial Underpass, according to several businesses in the area.
“It’s like a ghost town in here (during lunch shifts),” said Rachel Taormina, a server of five years at Salute. Owner Menbere Aklilu bought her employee Taormina dinner Tuesday night after telling her not to come in for her lunch shift that day, and asking her to clock out early during her dinner shift because of lack of business.
Aklilu said lunch business is down approximately 25 percent since the closure, which caused two servers to quit recently. And Salute isn’t the only Marina Bay business feeling the crunch.
According to sales figures provided by the owner of Cafe Pascal, business is down almost 20 percent from July to October.
Eight Marina Bay retail businesses have reported sales losses because of the road closure and are looking to the city for help.
“It was something we knew could be a possibility, but didn’t know how much and to what degree,” said Chad Smalley, project manager for the Successor Agency to the Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency.
Smalley said business owners first contacted Jacqueline Majors, the community liaison for the underpass project, shortly after the road closure began Sept. 3 and reported losses. Smalley and Majors visited all eight businesses last week to speak with their owners.
“We’re trying to get a handle on what the range of problems are and come up with a possible comprehensive solution,” Smalley said. “We don’t have one yet, but we are working on it.”
New signage was recently placed at the intersection of Marina Way South and Regatta Boulevard, directing detoured traffic to Salute and a few other businesses on the other side of the Marina Bay Parkway closure.
“(It’s) a small sign, and nobody can read it,” Aklilu said.
Aklilu said she spent nearly $1,000 on signs of her own directing drivers to Salute, and each one has disappeared within 24 hours of placement at intersections near the detour.
Others among Salute’s 31 employees are feeling the effects of the slowdown.
Server Haris Raftis has worked there for two months, crossing the Carquinez Bridge from Fairfield for each shift. Last week, he made $20 in tips for three days in a row.
“That doesn’t even cover my gas or bridge toll (for the week),” Raftis said.
Server Amber Garrett said she worries about money now after a few shifts in which she made $30 in tips.
Aklilu said the city needs to come up with a plan soon.
“This is horrible,” she said.
Smalley said the city is taking the issue seriously.
“We are not dismissive of this issue at all,” he said. “This is something we want to get ahead of and solve.”