DANVILLE — Owners of Jim & Jo’s Bar & Grill have been frustrated since construction started on the Fairchild Overpass.
Jim and Jo Wells aren’t sure whether they might become another business has to shutter its doors.
Jim Wells said when the city took out the former frontage road took out all of the business’ advertisements and put them on a dead-end road in a residential area that’s hard to reach.
Now the front of the building is the back of the building at 821 E. Fairchild St. The business must be accessed now by side roads. One sign directs traffic to the business off May Street. Wells said if they were a big business, the city would put in a $1 million road, not take one out.
He said they’ve asked for help and received little from the city.
Wells said they bought the bar to supplement his income. But they’ve been losing money, and have had to borrow money to stay in business since the overpass project started. Jo doesn’t make a salary.
The couple purchased the bar, which had previous names, in July 2007 and opened Jim & Jo’s Bar & Grill in February 2008. Jo has waitressed at the neighborhood bar since 1982.
More than three years ago, the couple voiced concerns when meetings were conducted about the overpass project. Jo Wells said they they were concerned about having only one access in and out behind the building, instead of the three access points before the new overpass was constructed. The public still could travel to the bar then, on the north side frontage road above the subway.
“We’re just not happy about it whatsoever,” Jo Wells said then.
She said her lunchtime crowd will suffer when people are in a hurry. If a train stops them or a detour takes longer, they have less time for lunch. That has affected the business, with the kitchen now basically shut down for lunch specials, except for a few meals. Wells said she’s cut back hours due to the poor business, and they’ve lost one video gaming machine too due to little play.
“If we shut down, we still have bills,” she said.
“This was a popular area,” Jo Wells added. “We used to have a booming lunch crowd.”
Now it’s hard for people to see and get to the business. When looking out the bar’s former front door, one only sees the overpass’ concrete wall. The bar still sees regulars on weekends and with its karaoke.
David Schnelle, Danville engineering and urban services director, said “the overall goal of any project is to avoid relocations wherever possible because they drive up project costs so much.”
The city spent a $500,000 relocating nearby Schomburg and Schomburg and $90,000 to relocate a resident displaced by the overpass project.
“Those are costs that are very significant and take away from a public improvement project,” Schnelle said. He said the city tries to preserve properties wherever possible.
In this situation with the bar, the overpass was going to be right outside the business’ front door after using the appropriate widths, building the new roadway and with the business built on the right-of-way. He said the city was able to avoid relocation in this case.
“I can say we’ve tried to make them happy,” Schnelle said.
He said the city recently poured a new sidewalk to provide better access to the new entrance; the city has re-graded portions of the parking lot; and the alley that also serves the bar’s property is on a schedule to be re-graded and improved.
“We put in some alternative plantings,” he also said about different ground coverings.
As for signs, the city told the Wellses to take down a sign on their roof, which isn’t allowed under city code. Any off-premise signs are considered billboards and also are not allowed with city code, Schnelle added.
Schnelle acknowledges that construction causes hardships, especially in this case with the overpass parameters.
“We certainly understand the effect,” he said, adding the Fairchild Street subway and frontage road completely changed from what it was before the new overpass.
“We took the brunt of it,” Jo Wells said. “We feel like we’re in a bad spot.”
“It makes us feel worthless,” Jim Wells added. “They got us back up against the wall, literally.”
Jo Wells said they thought business would improve again when the overpass opened, but that’s not been the case.
“It hurt us more than helped us,” she said of the overpass. “It’s just been a long struggle. This bar is a family.”