I-35 construction affects profits of local Waco businesses

I-35 in front of Robinson Tower. Nathan De La Cerda | Multimedia Journalist

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

As construction crews convert the I-35 highway and surrounding roads into a quagmire of traffic cones and concrete barriers, surrounding businesses have begun feeling the effects.

The construction is a result of the Texas Department of Transportation’s project that began in April to improve and expand I-35 through Waco.

Roshan Thakor is the owner of Stone Hearth Indian Café in downtown Waco. Stone Hearth suffered a significant drop in business over the summer, and Thakor lays the blame squarely on the intensified construction along I-35.

“If the three main exits to your business are closed … it becomes very difficult,” Thakor said. “We can’t be supported if we can’t get traffic.”

According to Thakor, Stone Hearth is losing $300 to $400 per day on average. He believes much of the lost business comes from the difficulty of crossing I-35 when traveling to or from Baylor.

“Evenings are a lot more slow for us right now due to the kids not being able to get over here,” Thakor said. “It also isn’t allowing the staff or students to be able to cross over as fast as normally people would like to so they’re not being able to explore the city.”

Thakor also said his restaurant sees fewer customers who are passing through Waco, as travelers on I-35 prefer to stay on the highway rather than navigate the detours and closures.

“The local regulars are definitely helping— they’re definitely very supportive of my business and other businesses downtown,” Thakor said. “It’s very much a necessity even at this point for everybody to find ways to get into downtown and support local businesses.”

Next door at Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits, assistant manager Jordan Colyer noted a slump in sales, but couldn’t say with certainty whether it is tied to construction.

“Compared to last year it has been a little bit slower— typically in the fall we see a rising trend as it starts to get busier with students coming back into town,” Colyer said. “It’s not a huge difference but it could be the construction… making it a little bit harder for students to come this way… I’m not for sure.”

Not all downtown businesses have seen a drop in sales. Mark Arnold is the owner of Cameron Trading Company, an antique store in downtown Waco. Unlike Thakor, Arnold saw his location downtown as a benefit, citing the Silo District Trolley and Magnolia as two factors bringing more customers into his store.

“I don’t think we’ve seen any loss whatsoever,” Arnold said. “We’re up from last year actually.”

Directly across I-35 from Baylor, construction on frontage roads presses against the cluster of restaurants nicknamed the “grease pit.” Jersey Mike’s Subs assistant manager Brittany King said that while her store is in good shape financially, the construction is turning customers away.

“It has been kind of good, kind of bad, not terrible,” King said. “We bring in some new customers just with the construction workers… of course we still have our Baylor students, still some travelers but with the exits being closed… some customers just bypass it altogether.”