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Construction taking toll on Norman businesses

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NORMAN, Okla – A construction project that has shut down an overpass and cluttered city streets is causing headaches for drivers and businesses alike. 

Road work along W. Lindsey St. has some entrepreneurs closing up shop and others making cuts.

Sooner Legends, a staple hotel and restaurant, laid off four employees last month, a move owner Doug Kennon called a “last resort” to deal with the downturn.

He calls the construction project the worst he’s ever been through.

“I see a lot of people suffering. I really do,” Kennon said. “I mean it hurts. A lot of these businesses on Lindsey Street are family owned.”

By his count, 19 stores on the strip have closed since the project started.

When crews reduced Lindsey to one lane in each direction, Kennon said traffic at his restaurant reduced 30-40 percent.

“It’s the reputation, and the news, and the media, and the city and the police are coming out and saying stay away from it at all costs,” he said. “They don’t understand the cost is great on the merchants here.”

Businesses are trying to stay positive as they work with a project that could last another year.

They’ve launched Facebook pages to keep customers informed and encourage local shopping.

“We’ve tried to take that approach instead of looking at what’s happening right now,” said Kristen McCall, a manager at The International Pantry. “Just being proactive and making sure our customers are aware has been the most important aspect for us. It’s just getting around that fear of the orange cone, which seems to be in everybody’s head.”

Signs outside the Pantry urge customers to shop at small businesses, while the local Chamber of Commerce works to promote the area and what it will become.

“We’ve tried to take a positive light to it and say, once the project is complete, it’s going to be beautiful and it will probably be one of the most idyllic streets to drive down,” McCall said. “At this point, what we’re finding is that, even though more orange cones are going up, little pieces of the puzzle are coming together.”

The future may be bright, but Kennon and Sooner Legends can’t ignore the present struggle, especially as students begin to leave for winter break and the restaurant’s catering business enters its slower time of year.

 “We just need some people’s support now,” he said, reciting the new slogan for businesses along Lindsey St. “Use them, don’t lose them.”