By Shirley Hawkins
CRENSHAW — The Harrison-Ross Funeral Home has been operating on Crenshaw Boulevard for more than 75 years. Lately, business hasn’t been so great.
Round-the-clock construction to build the Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail Line is taking its toll on the funeral home and other local businesses.
“They’ve closed off the main thoroughfare from 43rd to 48th Street,” said Chip Smith, co-owner of Harrison-Ross. “It’s borderline impossible to get to us.”
His wife Mimi added, “Our business is suffering. We had to hire security to show people how to get inside the building.
“Dirt from the construction ends up on the balcony, awnings, signage and the front porch. The dirt tracks in and creates a mess. People don’t like seeing that black soot. A funeral home can’t be dirty.”
She also bemoaned the fact that drilling by construction workers continues to cause noise during funeral services. “And we haven’t been able to utilize the chapel because of the constant banging heard from outside,” she said.
The funeral home hosted a meeting July 13 with about 100 disgruntled business owners complaining about the construction that was hurting their businesses.
The meeting was chaired by Tony Muhammad, west coast regional manager of the Nation of Islam, and Mark Reynolds, the president of Pacific Coast Regional, a small business development corporation that operates the Business Interruption Fund that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) established to help businesses along the Crenshaw Corridor that are being affected by the construction.
Business owners complained that the extensive fencing erected along the corridor is blocking sidewalks and resulting in a drastic drop in customers.
“We have had to close the front door that we used to have on the street,” said Jamal Parker, owner of Hog Parts Pros, a motorcycle business. He said he once greeted 40 to 50 customers a day, but now is lucky if he gets a customer or two each day.
“Customers can’t figure out how to get across the street. They don’t have access to get to us,” he said.
Despite outreach efforts by Metro and Pacific Coast Regional, many business owners expressed confusion over why they did not qualify for the Business Interruption Fund grant that requires business owners to have been operating on the Crenshaw Corridor for at least two years and have at least 25 employees.
Shalonda Baldwin, Metro’s deputy executive officer of diversity and economic opportunity, said outreach has been ongoing.
“We have contacted business owners in person, via phone and hosted workshops throughout the corridor,” Baldwin said. “As of July, we have granted $8.4 million in grants to small businesses in the Crenshaw community that have been directly impacted by the construction and assisted 169 businesses.”
But many business owners at the meeting shook their heads, claiming that they had not heard of any local businesses receiving BIF grants.
Metro is in the process of building three underground stations. The first one, at Crenshaw and 43rd Street, is finished. The second station, at Martin Luther King Jr. and Crenshaw boulevards, will be completed by late August; and the third station at Rodeo and Crenshaw boulevards, will be finished by early October. The entire rail project is expected to be completed by 2019.
Parker, the motorcycle shop owner, struggles to keep his doors open.
“We have been engaging with Metro for nearly two years, but we didn’t qualify for any funds.”
That statement was echoed by Angela Monteith, owner of the Ivy League Pre-School.
“We did not qualify for the BIF funding because we used to have the word ‘Christian’ in our name. We have been impacted because they took our parking annex away.”
Monteith said she was forced to lay off one of her teachers.
“We used to have 67 kids enrolled in the school. Wow we only have 32,” she said.
Queen Aminah of Amina’s Cultural Clothing said, “I did not qualify for BIF funds because my business is on Degnan Boulevard in Leimert Park. We don’t have walk-in traffic anymore because Metro workers are consistently parking their cars and trucks in front of our businesses. When I take pictures of the trucks, they leave within 10 minutes.”
Metro representatives attending the meeting silently listened to the comments.
“In order to get the work done, we have been working 24/7,” said Yvette Rapose, Metro’s deputy executive officer of community relations, who acknowledged “that construction is challenging, and that’s why we are fully integrated with the contractors and the construction management team. We know it has an impact on everyday living.”
“We’re currently in the middle of a 43-day closure from 43rd to 48th Street,” said Stephanie Leslie, Metro’s senior director of construction management. “The tarp [blocking the sidewalk] is a short-term issue which will be removed after 43 days,” she said, adding that the construction along the five-block corridor will end on July 27.
Residents in the area complained that the constant noise and drilling keeps them awake at night.
“If we don’t unite now, it’s our fault,” Muhammad said, adding that he wanted to see a list of the businesses that had qualified for BIF funds as well as the criteria local businesses needed to meet in order to qualify. “I intend to meet with the local politicians and Metro to get you help,” he told the audience.
Muhammad raised another issue when he observed that the majority of workers on the Metro project were not African Americans.
“If black people make up 50 percent of this area, they should have 50 percent of the jobs,” he said. “We have to make sure that Metro is culturally sensitive.”
“The help could have come sooner, but Metro recognizes the need,” Robinson said. “When it comes to business, we are looking for top line revenues and one year of tax returns. Metro has committed $10 million to this program for eight years.”
Muhammad asked the business owners to come together as a business conglomerate.
“I don’t believe that anybody is our friend yet,” he said, surveying the audience. “It’s going to be our job now to tell our politicians, ‘If you don’t work for us, we will get rid of you.’
“Harrison-Ross will not shut down.”