Monday, October 19, 2009

TV Report: Bad for Business? Cafe Prada and Senor Wong

This is a TV report on the LRT construction impact on Cafe Prada and Senor Wong in downtown St. Paul. SOB&J helped to make this report happen. -- LB

Friday, October 16, 2009

Raising Hell for Business Mitigation

LRT construction in downtown St. Paul started since July. Two businesses are losing customers, Prada Cafe and Senor Wong (see my two last posts below). AEDA asked the owner of Senor Wong yesterday at the UABA business meeting why there was no signage to direct customers to his restaurant.

Met Council was at the meeting. They said signage was put up yesterday (10/14/09). People were shocked. Why just yesterday?? The construction started in July.

Fred Gale was mad, he's from Congresswoman Betty McCollum office. He said Betty McCollum is concerned for small businesses in the Central Corridor. He couldn't believe there was no signage. Peter Bell gave his word signage would be in place to help businesses. Why didn't this happen downtown? He sounded like he was going to raise hell.

SOBJ later asked AEDA what this signage issue is about. Here's what AEDA wrote to us:

AEDA advocates for business mitigation funding as an option for businesses that will be negatively impacted by light rail transit construction. The Met Council has officially said they are against business mitigation funding. For a long time they have touted signage as one of the main strategies they would use during construction. (The other is marketing). They touted that construction signage would help businesses, pedestrians, and traffic. So it is really a mystery why they did not use adequate signage to help the businesses affected by construction for more than three months. Signage could have brought in more customers. As we know from talking with Senor Wong and Prada Cafe, they have lost up to 50% of their customers since construction started. Another issue that has not been discussed is the street closing. Senor Wong informed AEDA that Met Council told them traffic would be allowed through Fourth Street during construction. But as you can see if you go downtown, the whole street is closed off. Given these inconsistent and inadequate mitigation measures, we question the Met Council's mitigation plan. We would like to see that such a plan be available for the public and allowed for public input. If the construction does not complete on time before Winter, Senor Wong and Prada Café may not be able to weather through construction. Looking into the future, we hope that the Met Council will learn valuable lessons from Fourth Street and apply them to University Avenue, where inadequate mitigation measures would not affect just a handful of businesses, but thousands.
-- Asian Economic Development Association

Amen. All I have to say is, many businesses on University Avenue will not last three months like Senor Wong and Prada Cafe. it would be a nightmare, but don't be surprised if University Avenue is emptied of businesses after construction is down.

LRT Construction Impacts 2

Senor Wong restaurant invited me downtown St. Paul to see what is happening to their restaurant. The streets were closed for LRT construction and they are losing customers. I asked them to speak to University Ave businesses. Yesterday one of the owners came and spoke to University Avenue businesses at the UABA meeting.

Everyone was surprised at how badly Senor Wong is doing because of the construction. The owner said he stopped talking to Met Council because there's nothing they can do to help him. He's focused on running his business and don't have time. He said if the construction doesn't finish on time he will probably go out of business.

AEDA took these pictures of the construction:

When we went downtown to check out the construction we also went to Prada's Cafe. The owner wasn't there, but he wrote this letter to AEDA to share with everybody:

October 14, 2009

Prada’s Food Service LLC

111 Kellogg Blvd. Suite # 140

Saint Paul Mn., 55101

University Avenue business owners:

My name is Carlos Prada and I’m the owner of Prada’s Café in downtown St. Paul; we opened for business in April 20th this year.

When we opened we had many challenges like to getting organized, and we learned so much about the business. But we kept trying and did what we had to do to get this business ahead.

Everything was going well until light rail construction started some time in July. I knew the light rail was supposed to be built in the area but I did not know exactly where. If I had been told that the light rail will be right outside of the property where the café is I probably wouldn’t buy it.

Any way just want to share with you that the sales of my business went down between 40% to 50% since this project started. It’s unfortunate because when it’s completed it’s going to be great and supposed to help everybody as a transportation method, and hopefully help to generate more business opportunities.

Thanks for the opportunity to share my experience with you.

I think it’s great that you guys are organized and good luck to you all.


Carlos Prada

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

LRT Construction Impacts Downtown Businesses

The Met Council started the Central Corrdor light rail construction in downtown St. Paul. They are digging up the utilities to prepare for the LRT. Senor Wong restaurant in downtown invited SOBJ and AEDA (our biggest supporter) to see the impact on their business. We spent three hours at the construction site and talking to Senor Wong. They are located at 4th St and Robert. The streets are closed, for three months now. No parking on the street at all. They said they are lucky there's a parking ramp one block away or they be out of business by now. Everything is blocked off. The big construction machines digging everyday. You can't cross anywhere at 4th and Robert to get to Senor Wong. You can only get to Senor Wong if you go to Robert & Kellogg or 4th & Minnesota and walk one block to Senor Wong's door. The skyway is open so that's another way

The owners are angry. Their customers are not coming like they used to. They said probably up to 40% are staying away since construction started. We told them that's not surprising for us. we learned that from other cities. We are trying to do what we can to prepare the small businesses on University Avenue. They said Met Council or the city can't or won't do anything to help them. We asked Senor Wong to tell University Ave businesses about how they are impacted it would help them prepare for construction.

These pictures were taken by AEDA's director:

You can see more pictures here:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Taking Met Council to Task

This article ran in Twin Cities Daily Planet on Sept 24:

Some say we criticize Met Council for no reason, we don't know what we doing, light rail will be good for us. If that's true in four years my business and everybody else will be better off and we will all be happy. But we don't know what will happen. That's why we criticize the Met Council. They are not the only one we are taking to task. There's the city, and there's also the county. I have talked to the mayor, the city council person, and the county commissioner. They all say they support businesses and they don't want anybody to go out of business because of the light rail. They say they want to help but they don't commit to anything.

The Met Council they don't even pretend to want to help small businesses survive light rail. They say we will give you loan or marketing. How can that help me when costumers cant get into my business or I can't afford to stay on the avenue. The Met Council is against helping businesses make up for losing customers and sales when they dig up the street. They said that in the paper, it was Peter Bell or somebody working for him.

Peter Bell is not elected so he can do and say whatever he wants. The elected official will say things to please you but don't commit to anything. We business owners are taking all of them to task but they don't do anything. When light rail kick us out, they won't even miss us. They will have a shiny new light rail and other businesses to replace us. It will be mission accomplished for them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Straw

We visited about a dozen University Avenue businesses today. Met Council keeps telling business owners that light rail is going to do a world of good for them, bringing in more customers from near and far as if the light rail will magically improve everyone’s life. But businesses don't buy it. They are surprisingly realistic. They know what’s going on. They know the parking will be gone. They know they will have a tough time going through construction. They know their taxes will go up. They know when the light is built they might not be around. One thing they all know now business is down due to the bad economy. They are struggling. One restaurant owner said she could barely cover her rent last month. She asked if we knew a place where she could get a sign made cheaply to advertise her desserts. She doesn’t know how long she will last if business don’t pick up.

Another woman who has owned a large building of shops for 15 years and now that’s half vacant is losing the building to the bank. When the bank takes over, she don’t know what she will do. All the shops will close or move. She said the shops don’t want to stick around for the light rail.

A small restaurant that opened two years ago is closing. The owner is looking for a buyer. He said he’s got family to take care of. But he also said with the way business is, he doesn’t want to deal with what’s coming down the line (in the middle of the avenue). He wants to get out before his business goes under.

People think or wish light rail is going to do a miracle for businesses on University Avenue. It ain’t. These people don’t know anything about running a small business. They just need to talk to a business owner for 5 minutes about how things are. Nobody does that with them. Nobody. How are you? How’s your business doing? Could be better. Staying alive. Slow. Surviving, barely. Just ask and listen. They will learn that with the economy so bad, light rail will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Owners know this. They know their business like nobody’s business, they know what’s going on. They don’t believe the hype of light rail and the rosy picture painted by the Met Council.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

History Repeating Itself

What we are asking for is fair compensation because light rail will affect our businesses negatively. We are asking for support to keep our businesses alive during construction and after. The Met Council calls this a handout.

Did you know this? The Met Council, which will build the LRT on University Avenue, will use tens of millions of dollars to help the U of M and Minnesota public radio, because of the effect of light rail. Are they more special then our businesses on University Avenue? Is that why they get support and we don't? So when the met council gave the fund to help them, did they call that a handout?

I was just wondering what they call it because obviously they say that they are not giving any businesses “handouts”.

So, again the point I made in my speech, are they trying to remove all of the small businesses on this part of university? So when we all go out of business during the construction, are they going to say that it just happens, they didn’t deliberately kick us out? That’s what happened to the old Rondo’s Black community, they got kicked out. The government came and moved everyone and just put a highway through where peoples’ home and businesses were, where they lived their whole life. As a minority business owner, I can understand how the Rondo people feel. Now are they trying to do that to me? It will be the same thing if I go out of business because of light rail. It makes me wonder how people can get away with this kind of thing. Just my thought!! – L.B.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thank You to Our Supporters

I was sitting on University Avenue this afternoon and just felt so sick thinking about what is going to happen a year from now. Would businesses still be busy? Would there still be cars coming through and people stopping at local businesses? We all work so hard to accomplish what success we have. We made university what it is today. What will the future hold for us? Sometimes you just got to take a break, go out and sit on University Avenue somwhere and just observe. Supporters, the light rail could take it all away from us. I just feel so upset at times but I have to stay strong. I will not give up!! Thanks for your support!!

Fair and Just Compensation

The Met Council spokesperson Laura Baenen is quoted in MPR saying: "There's absolutely no money in the project budget for handouts, or to give people money," said Central Corridor spokeswoman Laura Baenen. "We're not doing it."

This is an insult, a slap in the face, for business owners. The Met Council must think business owners are stupid. Who is asking the Met Council for "handouts"? Do people who work for the Met Council, who are paid with tax dollars, understand the words "fair compensation?" Does Peter Bell, Met Council Chair, understand?

We are NOT asking for handouts from anybody. Least of all from the Met Council. We run our businesses with no help from nobody. What we gain, we worked hard for. Nobody gave me any handouts. We are doing fine without the Met Council. You think we going to depend on you for handouts? We didn't ask for the LRT. You going to shove it down our throats, drive away our customers. If my business will suffer because of their LRT, the least the Met Council could do is work with me in good faith to save my business.

This is how the Met Council deals with the business owners on University Avenue. Peter Bell lets his PR speaks for him, instead of getting out there and having real conversations with business owners about their concerns. If Met Council thinks all we want is handouts, they haven't been listening. Their PR strategy is to make us look like dumb asking for money for nothing. Well they look stupid, arrogant for saying that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

TV Reports on Save Our Businesses & Jobs

From KSTP-TV, A live report from Saigon Restaurant on University Ave.

From Fox 9 News, Save Our Businesses & Jobs is mentioned near the end.

Lysa Bui's Speech

Lysa Bui's Speech, Given August 26, 2009

My name is Lysa Bui, and I am one of the owners of Saigon Restaurant. Thanks everyone for coming today. Everyone that's here today own businesses, properties, or work on University Ave. We are all here today because it’s our time to speak up, we all want the same thing, and it’s business mitigation for our businesses.

Here is my story, I got into the restaurant business at a very young age, took over the business from my mom and had been on University for about 10 years. We endured a lot of hardship in the beginning when I took over the business and in the end we survived.

Last year we were forced to move from a previous location that we called home. It was a place where we thought we were going to be for a very long time. But due to circumstances beyond our control, we were given a very short time to move and so after closing down the business for 5 month, we found a new location, and yet once again we survived.

As many of you may know running a business takes a lot of time, effort, tears, and hard work. Closing down for 5 months literally almost killed our operations. But through hardship, we survived the difficult times and hardship. And now with the light rail coming, we will not survive unless we get some business mitigation, grants. Why would we need a loan, why would we want to put more debt on our shoulders? When I was forced to move I had a lot of option to choose from, but I chose to be on University Ave. I choose to be here because I believe this is a place of opportunity where the rich diverse minority business community had made it a vibrant neighborhood that its today.

Look in this room today. We all made what University what it is currently. Without you and I there would be no difference. Where were you Met Council? Why didn't you decide to put the light rail out there when it was a run down place? Why wait until we made this a safer and better place and come in today to destroy us?

Now the light rail is coming and the question that many of us businesses are strained by is the daunting question as to whether we can survive 4 years of construction in front our of door steps? Can we survive the difficulty that it will take a customer to come into our store? Can we survive with all the pollution, that will make customers think about coming here? Can we survive when 90 percent of our parking will be lost? The answer will be NO! Unless we can get some business mitigation (not a loan) grants.

For several years now, we have repeatedly been treated condescendingly by the government questioning whether we are for or against the popular light rail project. This question has a winners take all attitude and is not in the spirit of what we believe in…a good faith effort on behalf of leadership to provide fair equitable treatment to the hard working men and women along University Ave. We do not want to hear any more window dressing or denial of construction impact to our businesses! Thousand of small businesses will be affected. Thousand of jobs will be on the line.

Through our research of similar light rail construction projects in other major cities, most recently, the city of Seattle, we have been forewarned through the lessons that was learned there that construction will negatively impact small businesses by hindering foot traffic, parking, and other impediments relating to access to our businesses. This will result in up to 60% loss of revenues to our business for any given quarter. Uniquely with the economy being down, most of us are already losing 10-20% of our income. If you add those two numbers together it will be anywhere between 70-80% of lost income.

We fervently believe that mass transit benefits the region, but why should the hundreds of businesses along the LRT alignment be expected to absorb all the costly impacts and disruption to our livelihood and businesses! So we are asking the Met Council members…how would you feel if your paycheck was reduced significantly, hampering your abilities to make lease payment, mortgages, student loan payments, utilities, car payment, child care, credit cards and other living costs? Because that is exactly what you will do to us.

For the past year we have hoped that government can establish the only fair solution which is provide mitigation payments so that businesses are able to endure construction impacts. We are not asking for a new building, chairs, table, we are just asking to be compensated for what we will lose during and after construction. We are not a bunch of low life asking for a hand out, we are business owners that contribute to the community. We want to stop being labeled as anti-light rail. We are simply asking for fair and equitable treatments.

All of us here today share the same common goals wanting what is best for the neighborhood. We are holding Central Corridor accountable for the negative impacts of light rail. How do you guys feel about destroying us, does it make you a better person? Many of us here are immigrants coming to a country where there are suppose to be fair and equal treatment, and now look at what is happening to us? Is history repeating itself? Its this another "Rondo"? And you can get away with it because you get back up from the government, so therefore you have nothing to fear and do as you like, do as you care. You are at a job that pay you a salary. You come home at night and not have to worried about the future. Us all here do not know what tomorrow will be bring. Will we have a job in the following year?

We do not expect Met Council to care for us or love us. We just want to be treated fairly, to stop us from going out of business and losing our jobs. Met Council has repeatedly say in the end it will turn out good for us, but how can we enjoy the outcome and benefits when we will be out of business during construction? Is this the government way of saying thanks for being stupid, it's our turn to take over now GOODBYE!

The signs that you see here to today is a desperate cry for HELP! Why haven't anyone offer us help regarding grant and compensation money, we get offer loans and putting more debts on top of debts no thank you. Marketing skills? We were doing fine without the light rail.

Met Council also say that they have many meetings, yes meeting that are telling us their plan and what they are going to do with their millions. Does our voice not count?

Finally with our signs, our voice will not be muted any more. And even if we are displayed by the construction, we want to mark this day that we are not fools! That we anticipated the problems, that the powers that may be, did not act on our behalf when we seek help.

Lysa Bui

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is “Save Our Businesses & Jobs”?

What is the “Save Our Businesses & Jobs” Committee

The committee is a group of small business owners on University Avenue concerned about the impact of Central Corridor light rail on businesses and jobs. ANYBODY CAN JOIN SOBJ.

Chair: Lysa Bui, Saigon Restaurant

Co-Chair: Pete Vang, Vang Dental Clinic




To make sure no one on University Ave will go out of business or lose a job because of light rail transit.

“We are not anti-light rail. We are pro-business.”


· Provide a collective voice for small business owners to advocate for themselves in the Central Corridor.

· Advocate for comprehensive business mitigation and assistance during and after light rail construction.

· Hold Central Corridor light rail transit officials accountable for the negative impact of light rail on small businesses.

· Educate small business owners and the public about the impact of light rail during and after construction on University Ave small businesses.

  • Invite the public to support University Ave businesses during light rail construction.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Business Owners Gathers to Voice Concerns About Lack of Central Corridor Business Mitigation Resources and to Launch Awareness-Raising Campaign

Contact: Lysa Bui, 651.225.8751, email:

Media Advisory

August 25, 2009

Business Owners Gather to Voice Concerns About Lack of Central Corridor Business Mitigation Resources and to Launch Awareness-Raising Campaign about Negative Impacts of Light Rail Transit on Small Businesses

The Save Our Businesses & Jobs Committee will launch “Save Our Businesses & Jobs” signage campaign on WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 26, 2009, 10:00 AM, at Saigon Restaurant, 704 University Avenue West.

Small business owners will gather at Saigon Restaurant to sign up for the campaign and voice their concerns about the negative impact the Central Corridor Light rail transit project will have on small businesses once construction starts. Hundreds of the “Save Our Businesses & Jobs” signs will be handed out to businesses.

It is expected that light rail construction will obstruct and disrupt normal operation of the businesses on University Avenue. Without business mitigation and assistance, small businesses will incur lost of sales revenues and face new challenges that could drive many of them out of business. Once light rail is operational, the increase in assessment fees, rents, and taxes will price many small businesses out of University Avenue. Thousands of small businesses will be affected. Thousands of jobs will be on the line.

The aim of the “Save Our Businesses & Jobs” campaign is to voice the concerns of business owners about the lack of mitigation and assistance resources to save their businesses and jobs; and to raise awareness of the negative impact of the Central Corridor light rail project on small businesses and the need for mitigation and assistance. Visit for more information.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Save Our Businesses & Jobs

Light rail transit is coming to University Avenue in St. Paul beginning in 2010.

Light rail construction will disrupt and obstruct the day-to-day operation of small businesses on University Avenue. Small businesses will lose revenues because they will be forced to close for construction or customers won’t have access. After construction, most of the on-street parking that many small businesses depend on will be eliminated; fees and taxes will increase; new competition will arise; real estate speculation could take place. No wonder small business owners are afraid of light rail. Their jobs and livelihood are on the line.

How will small businesses on University Avenue survive? How will light rail benefit these small businesses when it could kill them off? How can we make sure that small businesses will survive and thrive with light rail transit?

The thousands of small businesses on University Avenue create jobs and contribute to the local economy in thousands of ways. Our neighborhoods along University Avenue depend on these small businesses. They provide products and services that the community needs. They make our neighborhoods better places to live.

The mission of the Save Our Businesses & Jobs is to make sure that no one goes out of business and no job is lost because of the impact of light rail transit. This can only be done if there is a comprehensive business mitigation and assistance program in place.

We also want to make sure that there is awareness of the problems light rail transit will create for small businesses and that light rail officials are accountable.

Support our cause by ordering a “Save Our Businesses & Jobs” sign. It’s only $10 (the cost of making one sign). This is a good way to bring awareness to this critical issue. Our email is SaveOurBizJobs(at)

You can also support us by calling or writing these public officials and telling them to save the jobs and businesses on University Ave that light rail will impact:

Peter Bell

Chair of the Metropolitan Council


fax 651-602-1358


The Met Council is responsible for building the Central Corridor light rail line on University Avenue.

Chris Coleman

Mayor of St. Paul



Mayor Chris Coleman is your main elected official in St. Paul responsible for business needs.

Lastly, you can support the thousands of small businesses on University Avenue by continuing to patronize them through light rail construction.

Contact the Save Our Businesses & Jobs Committee: