Some Milwaukee Avenue businesses are struggling due to roadwork
By Jennifer Eisenbart
For almost 14 years, Bertha Benitez’s Los Compadres – a Mexican restaurant with a full bar license – has been a staple in Burlington.
Benitez is now wondering how much longer that will be the case, as the Milwaukee Avenue construction project has almost shut her business down.
“You just can’t get into the restaurant,” Benitez said Tuesday, pointing out that because of a dip in the concrete, people would likely damage their cars trying to pull into the business’s parking lot.
Normally open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Benitez said she is just trying to stay alive for a 5-9 p.m. dinner session.
“The economy has been bad, but not this bad,” she said. “I’m just trying to hang in here as much as I can.
“Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Los Compadres is not the only business suffering as construction on Milwaukee Avenue continues. Along the city’s main thoroughfare traffic is restricted to just two lanes at 20 miles per hour – making it difficult if not impossible at times to get into some businesses.
Chris’s USA owner Chris Neu said Saturday, in the midst of a coat drive for Love Inc., that business is down about 50 percent as a result of the project.
“We’re steady but we’re down,” said Neu. “I think the worst is yet to come. It truly is.”
Neu is on the east side of Milwaukee Avenue, which means traffic can pull directly in and out onto pavement. However, when the city finishes the west side and makes the switch, customers will have to go through actual construction to get to the tavern.
It will be a nice switch for Benitez, who has had days with no customers at her restaurant.
On Tuesday, she said she was in there to “answer phone calls and deal with bills.”
“People just want to get out of here,” she explained. “They take the back roads so they don’t have to come through here.”
Bill Schoessling, the executive director at Love Inc., will be involved with an event at Los Compadres Oct. 19, where a portion of the money from meals sold will be donated to the service organization.
“The whole idea is to get some people in that restaurant,” Schoessling said. “It’s just being killed by that construction.”
Benitez said she had tried contacting the city looking for assistance, but was told there was nothing they could do.
Mayor Bob Miller said Tuesday evening that Benitez could apply for one of the $5,000 microloans the city has available, but those loans are issued through the Racine County Economic Development Corporation, and those borrowing need to meet certain criteria in terms of credit ratings, ability to pay back the money and financial stability of the business.
He did not know if Benitez was in a position to apply for one of the loans.
The problem with the construction is that can’t be avoided. Neu said as much.
“It had to be done,” she said. “It was going to happen this year, or happen next.
“It’ll be nice to have it over and done with.”
And unlike the situation at Los Compadres, Chris’s USA is doing all right.
“We’re gonna survive,” Neu said.
She also said she was thankful for all the customers who continued to patronize the bar, though she conceded that everyone along Milwaukee Avenue is in the same boat.
“I think everyone along here is feeling the same pain,” she said.
Miller said construction is running about a week and a half behind schedule, and expects the west side to be finished and open next week.
From there, the east side should be quicker, as there is no utility work to be done under the street – just repaving.
He said the city has not heard anything from businesses, except in the case of Los Compadres.
“Access to all the businesses on Milwaukee Avenue has been maintained all along,” Miller said. “It’s not that people couldn’t get to them.”