Business Owners Hurl Accusations at City Officials
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
A chorus of West Central Avenue merchants is asking why economic development should equate with their going out of business.
On Aug. 17, during another raucous meeting filled with angry Albuquerque Rapid Transit opponents, City Hall staffers and City Councilor Ken Sanchez got an earful from business owners already suffering because of pre-ART construction along West Central Avenue.
The theme that emerged from testimony: economic destruction, declining business, layoffs, possible closings, and plans to relocate to a different area of the city.
Some of the business owners hurled accusations that Mayor Richard Berry is sacrificing their businesses for his short-term political future and for a hoped-for millennial-driven revitalization that might take 20 years to materialize.
As a measure of the tone of the meeting, Buck Buckner, owner of the Rainbow Car Spa at Central and Rio Grande pleaded with city officials to slow down the ART project. He asked, then answered his own question about why the city continues to push ART despite significant public opposition.
“I don’t understand, why the hurry?” Buckner asked during the two-hour-long meeting at the Pat Baca Library at Unser and Central.
“You’re doing a disservice to engineering and engineering technology. This is a 20-year bet for having millennials come in here for high-paying jobs that we don’t have. Why? Berry’s administration is coming to an end and we have to hurry up and get this done? That is not serving the public.”
Kimberly Montaño, a widow who is raising two children, tearfully told Sanchez, in whose district her business lies, that she is about to lose her barber shop and salon, Kim’s Chop Shop, 5809 Central Ave. NW, because pre-ART water line relocation has blocked access to her shop.
“My business is down 80 percent. I’m a widow supporting two children alone,” Montaño said. “If we don’t have business for our businesses [we have to close]. If my business goes under, that’s it. Do you think I want to walk away from my business, something that supports myself and my children?”
Montaño told ABQ Free Press that since relocation of Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority lines began, she’s lucky to be doing $10 a day. Access to her shop has been blocked since June, she said.
Julian Torrez, owner of Julian’s Burgers N More at 5500 Central Ave. SW., said his business is down by $30,000 in the past 25 days because customers can’t get to his restaurant. “There’s no common sense,” about the construction, Torrez said.
At times, the meeting – called by Sanchez after earlier reports of lost business along West Central – nearly spiraled out of control. At times it got quite personal. Attendees tried to shout down Sanchez and other officials after they took the first 20 minutes of what was scheduled as an hour-long meeting to explain ART and the water line construction.
Gary Oppedahl, director of the city’s Economic Development Department, said ART is designed to attract millennials, new businesses, higher density residential projects, and international travelers to the length of Central. He said the people living in the neighborhoods along the street would have to “skill up” for the jobs that he and the mayor say ART will help create.
The mayor has said with the help of local business-assistance nonprofits, a loan fund has been set up to help business owners adversely impacted by ART’s construction.
When transit director Bruce Rizzieri went over his allotted time limit of two minutes to speak, some of the nearly 40 audience members started shouting for him stop.
“Quit speaking,” one woman shouted. Another yelled, “You’re taking too much time.”
Rizzieri replied, “The more you yell, the longer I will stay here.”
Things got personal when Greg Pacheco, owner of the El Charrito restaurant at 47th and Central, recalled how Sanchez’s parents used to bring him into the restaurant as a child, when he was “still a little peon.” Pacheco continued, “You’re still one.”
Pacheco said Sanchez hadn’t been in his restaurant since the utility work started, leaving pipes, construction equipment, trenches and mounds of earth blocking access to his and other businesses.
Eddie Montoya, area supervisor for the four Golden Pride restaurants in Albuquerque, told ABQ Free Press before the meeting that business at the restaurant at Coors and Central had dropped by 15 percent since work began, and that he’s had to lay off six people from that location.
Councilor Sanchez said that his business, Gilbert Sanchez Income Tax & Accounting Services at 5704 Central Ave. SW, which he inherited from his father, also had suffered during construction because of a lack of access for clients.
Buckner told Sanchez that the problem along Central and throughout Albuquerque was skyrocketing crime and that ART wouldn’t solve that. “I can’t even plant a flower garden [in front of my business],” Buckner said. He recently planted $1,000 worth of flowers in front of his car wash only to have it destroyed the next morning by homeless people sleeping in it, he said. “How are we going to change Central with a bus?” he asked.
ART opponent Donald Clayton ridiculed the idea that a bus down Central would lead to economic development and jobs for the area. During the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of people passed through Albuquerque along Route 66 on their way to California,” Clayton said.
He then reminded the city officials present that the reason for that westward migration was jobs. “California had jobs, not buses,” Clayton said. “A bus is not going to change the situation.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org