Merchants who are struggling through the dust and noise of the California Avenue Streetscape Project have lost as much as 25 percent of sales, they said earlier this week.
But despite the hardship, many say they are hopeful the $6.9 million improvement project will attract more customers and boost sales once it is completed in March 2015. The renovation includes new lighting, pavement, street furniture, a plaza and spots for outdoor dining. With the number of traffic lanes being reduced from four to two, sidewalks will be expanded.
Robert Martinez, owner of Palo Alto Eye Works, said the lost revenue was expected.
"We knew it was going to get ugly before it got pretty," he said.
As the project rolls along, business owners report that the biggest dip in sales happens when construction takes place in front of their stores. More than seven months into the project, colored glass now sparkles in the new concrete, and areas where sidewalks have been widened hint at the shape of the avenue to come.
Martinez said he is looking forward to some of the improvements. The street will have better drainage and more lighting, and the new sidewalk pavement has good traction, even when wet, he said.
Construction in front of his store started in earnest on Sept. 4. As it has intensified in the last two to three weeks, he's seen the biggest dip in sales.
"That's when all the orange netting, cones and pylons intimidated people," he said.
Construction on his block is expected to end in the next week or two, and Martinez is gearing up for that day.
"Now I have to go to referring doctors and tell them the construction is gone, and people can come back," he said.
It's not just retailers who've felt the squeeze. Amos Wu, owner of Subway sandwich shop, estimated his business is off by more than 20 percent.
"When they started blocking the road, people avoided the area," he said.
He's tried incentives and other ways to lure customers.
"We put up balloons, but the help is limited. Hopefully, the suffering will pay off," he said.
Judy Ohki, manager at Leaf & Petal women's apparel store, said with street parking gone, the store is letting people park in the back as an incentive.
Vin Vino Wine Bottle Shop & Tasting Bar posted a sign on its door announcing a "Cal Ave Construction Sale" of 15 percent off on three bottles or more.
"Last month was brutal for our business," the store noted in its online October newsletter. "Traffic was way, way down."
The merchant accused the city of "doing nothing" to ease the loss of business but urged loyal shoppers to continue their patronage.
"Cal Ave has long been a special part of Palo Alto, a haven for locals, and if you are one of our fans, October will be a good time to turn out and support Cal Ave businesses," Vin Vino Wine noted.
Use of social media and Facebook blunted some of the losses for European Cobblery, owner Jessica Roth said. Sales have been down -- but perhaps less than expected, she said -- for her family business.
Roth said she's a little worried about how construction will affect the holidays, which is when many stores make most of their money. The contractor will be working on the east end (Park Boulevard and the Plaza area) of the project during the holidays, City Project Engineer Shahla Yazdy said.
Roth and other retailers hope shoppers will know that and won't stay away, so stores can make up some of the lost revenues.
Yazdy, who is managing the project, said final street grinding, paving and striping is scheduled for the very end of February or March -- pending rain and unforeseen circumstances.
The work, concentrated this month on the El Camino Real end of the district, will next move to the north side of California between Birch Street and Park Boulevard. Mollie Stone's Market Manager John Garcia said although the construction so far hasn't seriously dampened the store's sales, he is concerned about the coming weeks. And should the project be delayed further into spring, it could seriously harm sales.
The renovation has already had a three-month setback from its original completion date -- the end of this year -- after complications with a water-main replacement under the street.
"The busiest time for us is Passover. I'm concerned about that," Garcia said.
CORRECTION NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that to accommodate merchants, the city plans to halt construction during the holiday season. Palo Alto Online apologizes for the error.