The challenge of construction season
A dirt packer creeps along the red construction dust where once lay busy Sanborn Boulevard. Orange plastic fences block driveways that in years past would have invited tourists to turn for overdue oil changes, the state's best hot dogs, or a slice of pizza and beer.
It's not necessarily as bad as it looks. Businesses — at least many of them — are pleasantly surprised by how well they're weathering this year's challenge.
It was quiet at Lube Rangers around mid-afternoon Friday, which was fine with Manager Mike Graham, because they had been pretty busy earlier in the day.
"Our loyal customers have stayed very loyal," Graham said, "and when they come here, we can't thank them enough. We appreciate their business in a really tough time."
Graham was plenty worried when the city announced it would fully close four-lane Sanborn, which typically carries Corn Palace tourists to and fro past the storefront.
"It was a huge worry," he said, but Lube Rangers has made the best of it. The city worked with Graham and put up extra signage. The company advertised more this year. It's done more with social media. But the biggest thing is loyalty, he said.
"I'm on my third generation of changing oil," Graham said. Some of his customers are the children of customers who originally entered the store with their parents.
"We've developed good loyalty over the years," Graham said. Sanborn's closure would have exacted a more significant toll if Lube Rangers had opened only a few years ago, he said.
That's not to say it's going to be a record year, Graham added. Customers who come are those seeking an oil change. They aren't the tourists driving past who realize they're overdue for an oil change.
But on balance, "We're pretty pleased," Graham said. "We're getting through it. ... It's working better than I thought it would be."
Loyal customers with big appetites have also helped nearby Hungry Dog survive what originally looked like a dogged struggle. The hot dog restaurant recently got a boost by a May issue of People Magazine, which named Hungry Dog as the best hot dog place in South Dakota. The magazine listed the best hot dogs of every state, and Mitchell's store made the map.
The publicity brought two wiener aficionados from Missouri on Thursday and two more from Bison on Friday.
"They loved it," said owner Brian Muntefering, noting the store's locally sourced meat and its Dimock cheese.
It's nice to get some tourists, Muntefering said. Sanborn construction has "cut our business in half," he said.
"But I understand this is what has to happen," he said. Construction crews are steadily moving ahead, weather permitting, although this year's weather hasn't been completely permissive.
"As a farmer, I understand the weather," he said. "You work as the weather permits."
Down the street at Palace MotoSports, "It's not hurt us any," said owner Scott Studer. "It has to get worse before it gets better, and it's going to get better."
The other day, GPS brought to his parking lot some customers returning to Quebec, Canada.
City officials and construction crews have been very responsive and good to work with, Studer said.
"They're quick to take care of things and answer questions," he said.
Ashley Duerksen of Marco's Pizza, across the former street — you have to drive eight blocks to get there — was too busy Friday to answer many questions.
Marco's has a lot of delivery business, said Duerksen, who had dough waiting for her in the back room.
"It keeps us going," she said.
Duerksen has not had to cut staff or reduce the restaurant schedule.
Marco's was slammed on Thursday night for its weekly half-price special.
That isn't to say she likes the construction.
"The sooner it's done the better," she said.