After more than a year of orange cones and torn up gravel, the reopening of Lindsey Street has alleviated many problems in the area, but left a lingering sense of desolation in some local business owners.
Jeri Sieber became the face of Classic 50’s Drive-In only shortly before the mile-long construction project began. As part of a long time family-run business, Sieber is familiar with many other local businesses on Lindsey Street and considers them family. As she took on her new role as a business owner, Sieber found herself among those facing unimaginable challenges throughout the construction process.
Although the demolition of the street is over now, Sieber speaks for several business owners along the route when she says the destruction of her business is a wound she is still trying to recover from.
Sierra Rains: Do you remember when the construction first began and what your reaction to it was?
Jeri Sieber: My family has owned Classic 50’s for 60 years. I bought it in September of 2015, so I bought my whole family out. I had been overseas, I had come back and had worked for a while and my uncle who was running it decided he wanted to retire because my grandfather had died. So I decided ‘I’ll go ahead and buy my family out because I don’t want it to close.’ It’s a family tradition.
I had absolutely no idea. I was thinking that we were going to have construction, they were going to widen the road. It never in a million years occurred to me that it would be like this. It took almost two years just to widen one mile. I was absolutely floored when I found out what they were doing and how long they were planning on taking.
SR: What was one of your biggest struggles during the construction process?
JS: At one point they had Lindsey shut down to two lanes, they had I-35 shut down and they had the Lindsey Street bridge shut down at Lindsey and Berry. They pretty much isolated us on an island to where, unless you knew Norman back streets inside and out, you couldn’t even get down Lindsey Street. They completely cut off the entire world from us. I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere I’ve lived.
SR: How much did your sales drop during that time period?
JS: My sales dropped 50 percent.
SR: Have your sales gone back up at all since the construction has ended?
JS: My sales have gone back up. They are slowly climbing back up and getting to where I need them. I don’t really know what to expect because I bought it, I did a lot of renovations, I kind of revamped it. I don’t know if I’m supposed to get an increase in business because of all of the changes to Lindsey Street, but at this point, all I want to do is get my business back to where it was the year that I bought it. If I could just make as much money in a year as I did in 2015, before all of this started– I’m just trying to get back to where it was when I bought it.
SR: What do you think it would take to get your business back to where it was when you bought it?
JS: Even with it opening up and a surge in our business, we’ll still probably be $150,000 off this year from where we were the year before construction began. That is great considering last year, where I lost $450,000. I am okay with that. I am slowly but surely building our business up and it’s just really important that we get the word out, so people know they can come down Lindsey Street. I feel like half the town doesn’t even know we’re open yet. They’ve gotten so used to avoiding it for so long that they still avoid it. I’m still working on getting everyone on the same page, saying ‘Hey we’re still here, we survived, come visit us’.
SR: So, in the long run, do you think the construction on Lindsey Street was worth it?
JS: I’m really happy with the construction, I’m glad they did it. Do I think they needed to take almost years to do it? No, I don’t. I mean I look at other projects in other states and I’m just saddened. I mean they built an entire bridge across a lake in Dallas within half the time that they took to build this mile long corridor.
Over 50 percent of the Lindsey Street businesses went out of business. Some of them are corporate stores, but some of them are like mom and pop shops that my friends and families I’d known my whole life– I grew up with– own these stores and after 30 years they’re just like ‘Yeah we can’t survive this’. They either close their doors or they sell out. How do you put a price on that?