Alterations unlimited during downtown construction
Business owner shares alternate take on downtown work

By Hannah Weikel - Freeman Staff

July 6, 2017

  Alterations Unlimited owner Stephanie Olson outside her shop on North Grand Avenue in downtown Waukesha, which saw street closures and construction this year.
Hannah Weikel/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — While many are awaiting the rapidly approaching end of downtown construction, one business owner whose brightly colored storefront was encroached upon by orange cones and road blockades says business has actually increased during the months-long project.

Stephanie Olson, 62, owner of Alterations Unlimited, said when she first heard about the project she worried it would deter customers from navigating their way into her store. But Olson doubled down on marketing efforts, including a neon green sign reading “OPEN DURING CONSTRUCTION” that she put up in the shop window before construction started and handing out fliers to her customers.

Her efforts seem to have paid off; Olson said the business is doing better just over halfway into this year than it did in the entirety of last year, which she largely attributes to the municipal parking lot near Associated Bank one block away, just outside the construction perimeter.

“The big thing is having people park in a different lot that none of my customers seemed to know about before,” she said. “I always had one spot out front, but if they saw that there was a car parked there as they drove by, they would decide to just come back another day.”

Olson directed all of her customers to the public lot, regardless of weather, and found that spreading the word about the abundance of available parking brought in more people than she could have hoped for, she said.

“Every single person comes in and says ‘this [construction] must really impact your business,’” Olson said, adding that she’s even gotten tips from a few regulars who worried the business was hurting.

But the construction on the street and surrounding area has been the best thing that could have happened to Alterations Unlimited, Olson said.

Effect on others

The city hasn’t received much feedback — good or bad — from downtown businesses since the construction project began, said City Engineer Brandon Schwenn.

He said Olson has been the only business owner outspoken about the benefits of construction.

“Generally speaking, there usually isn’t an increase in business, but that’s ultimately the goal in the end,” Schwenn said.

The city invited businesses and residents to two public input meetings earlier in the year and fielded questions and concerns about the impact of construction.

Olson took part in those meetings, and voiced her worries about how it would affect business, but it has all worked out for the best, she said.

Construction is complete on the block housing Alterations Unlimited, and is expected to wrap up completely by the end of July. There is a little sanitary lateral lining that will be worked on at night, and one property owner has to complete some work on an underground sidewalk vault. After that, all that’s left is to wait for the concrete to dry, Schwenn said.