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Red Line shutdown on South Side may curb business at rib joint, other shops

Billy Nathan owner Nathan's Ribs   Grill talks about how Red Line L reconstructiproject will impact his business Tuesday

Billy Nathan, owner of Nathan's Ribs & Grill, talks about how the Red Line L reconstruction project will impact his business on Tuesday, May 7, 2013. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 9, 2013 6:40AM

Every day people get off the Red Line at 47th Street, smell the sweet smoke emanating from Billy Nathan’s rib joint, and before they know it they’re inside plunking down cash for a basket of tangy rib tips.

But when the Red Line shuts down south of Cermak on May 19th for five months of repairs, Nathan worries that there won’t be nearly as many people passing by his I-94 Ribs and Grill.

“Business is good now, people get off the train all day long and come in here.” Nathan said. “They shut the L down, I’m going to be lonely.”

Nathan isn’t alone. Businesses along all nine stops shuttered for the reconstruction are bracing for a lean summer.

At ABC Choice Wireless, a cellphone store at 79th and Lafayette, associate James Butler estimated 60 percent of the store’s customers came from the L. “Some of them get off the train, pay a bill, and get right back on,” Butler said.

Butler’s store is next to the 79th Street station, which will be served by a shuttle ferrying passengers to the Green Line Garfield stop. But “It’s hard to say how many people will keep riding that bus,” Butler said.

Not all businesses near the Red Line area as dependent on Red Line traffic.

That’s partly due to the isolated locations of the South Side Red Line stations — perched on bridges over the median of the Dan Ryan expressway. Rail commuters often transfer to buses right on the bridge or in the station, so they are less likely to walk through the neighborhood. That means the surrounding businesses are not as dependent on commuter traffic.

And because each station is on an exit of one of the area’s busiest expressways, many of the nearby businesses are more oriented towards car traffic than foot traffic. Each Red Line South Side stop is usually surrounded by gas stations and strip malls. While those businesses may lose some foot traffic during the shutdown, the cars will keep coming.

“I don’t think the shutdown will affect our business,” said Sam Barbari, manager of Diva Beauty Supply, located in a strip mall at 51 W. 79th Street. “Most of our customers drive.”

But there are still many businesses like Nathan’s rib joint at 325 W. 47th St. that need the pedestrian traffic generated by the L and could be hurt by the shutdown.

When Green Line and Brown Line stations at the heart of pedestrian-friendly neighborhood commercial strips closed during earlier CTA repair shutdowns, many of those storefront businesses never came back.

Nathan is determined to avoid that fate. “The restaurant business is full of ups and downs. It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to make it.”

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