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Businesses say they’ll survive Red Line reconstruction

Morgan Ng 26 manager Triple Crown Restaurant Chinatown. |TinSfondeles~Sun-Times

Morgan Ng, 26, manager at Triple Crown Restaurant in Chinatown. |Tina Sfondeles~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 11, 2012 10:25AM

Will business in Chinatown be a casualty of next year’s plans to reconstruct the CTA’s Red Line on the South Side?

Not quite, business owners and managers at several shops and restaurants say.

Some merchants interviewed days after the CTA announced plans to shut down the south leg of the line for five months next year said they’ll survive without the patrons who come from the Cermak—Chinatown Red Line station. About half of customers are local residents anyway, they say. And so are most employees.

But the Near South Side community will be missing something during the closure: shuttle buses to jet riders to a Green Line L stop, which riders on the far south end of the Red Line will get. Commuters are expected to rely on bus routes in the area, like the No. 62 Archer, No. 24 Wentworth and No. 21 Cermak.

The CTA says it will increase its regular bus service in the area. But sorry, L riders ­-- you’re out of luck: the Chinatown Red Line stop is the only L station east of Halsted between Roosevelt Road and 35th Street.

The “old” Chinatown area on Wentworth has already gone through headaches related to work at the stop.

The station underwent renovations to fix damage from a crash that killed two and injured 21 others when a trucker plowed into the station in fall 2009. Crews constructed a new entrance and exit at Archer Avenue in June 2010, and businesses on that side of the neighborhood saw a boost in business. It’s been pretty constant since.

A manager at Phoenix restaurant on Archer said most non-local customers drive there. And most regulars don’t take the bus or the subway. Some even take water taxis.

The restaurant validates parking for customers at a public lot next to the train station. It’s just $2 to park, but traffic and parking spots get a little tight during the weekends.

“I think a lot of customers who take the Red Line down here on weekends are trying to avoid having to park in the lot because parking is pretty limited in this area,” said Carol Chung, dining room manager at Phoenix. “You might have to drive around a bit, and it’s kind of a pain.”

The area is already pretty clogged with traffic. On a Friday afternoon, drivers were stuck at the intersection of Wentworth and Cermak for about two lights before getting through.

Still, Chung says she’s not too worried about the construction.

“I highly doubt that it’s going to have that much of an effect on people’s positions,” Chung said. “I mean, if you have your heart set on coming down to Chinatown to have something to eat, you’re not going to change your mind and go somewhere else.”

On the Wentworth side of Chinatown, some managers are actually a little worried. The construction at the station after the accident did affect business, and it could happen again next year.

During that project, riders would hop off the Red Line and take the new Archer Avenue exit, assuming that side was the only Chinatown. They didn’t bother to come to the other side, said Morgan Ng, manager at Triple Crown Restaurant.

As for next year: “We’re going to see a noticeable impact on the 50 percent of our customers that aren’t regulars,” Ng said.“I think it’ll make it a lot harder for people to make it into Chinatown.”

But the restaurant does have a saving grace. It’s open until 2 a.m.

“We’ll have our locals and we’ll have our nighttime crowd and those guys usually take cabs or get rides,” Ng said. “I don’t see us taking too much of a hit because most of those customers don’t take the Red Line over here too late.”

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