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Roadwork blamed for restaurant decline

Dave Sullivan
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Sep 21/01) - It's lunchtime in Yellowknife's only Italian restaurant, and there are just a few customers.

Longhini's is in trouble, and its owners blame a city project that left surrounding streets torn up and closed most of summer.

Roxanne Longhini doesn't have much to keep her busy in an empty restaurant. - Dave Sullivan/NNSL photo

"It's been two months now. Our business has dropped 70 per cent," says co-owner Roxanne Longhini. Her and husband Alex moved here from Hay River a year and a half ago to take over Georgio's from Momma Meraglia, who Roxanne says was exhausted.

The city says there's no compensation for the large works project centred on the corner of 51st Avenue and 48th Street, right where the restaurant is.

New sidewalks have been poured, and the crew should be gone by month's end, says the city's public works supervisor.

"It's not unusual for businesses to be affected during construction. The best example of that was a couple years ago, when the reconstruction of Franklin Avenue took place," says the supervisor Greg Kehoe. That project took 10 weeks.

Roxanne Longhini admits her restaurant isn't in the best location, but two weeks ago marked the first time there were no customers one day. The next day, there was just one and he had to park a block away.

"Our balcony used to be full."

Business went from 20 to 25 lunch customers down to a handful, she says. "We don't know if we're going to make it into next month."

The restaurant is several months behind in $1,000 monthly property-tax payments to the city, even though the Longhinis say it's been paid to Meraglia, who remains landlord from her home in B.C.

The city warns that Boston Pizza will be the next to be hit with disruptions, as the $2.2-million storm-drain project moves in that direction.

The city is replacing the storm sewers that drain rain into the lake. City engineer Norm Kyle said the old system leaks and collapsed in places, causing pavement to heave up throughout much of the area.

The new one will carry more water and is being buried deeper.

Since the road has to be dug up, it makes sense to pave it properly after the drainpipe is in, Kehoe added.

At the Prospector Grill, which was affected by another summer paving project, manager Julie Pin says the paving didn't have a negative impact on the business.

"We did a great business this summer," she says.