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Transportation Working & the Economy

Help Proposed for Struggling Businesses Near Purple Line Construction in Montgomery County

Abeba Tsegaye, co-owner of Kefa Café, prepares a coffee drink in February 2020. The small business is one of dozens that have seen disruption during construction for the Purple Line. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

By Kate Ryan

The coffee at Kefa Café in Silver Spring is apparently so good that some customers are willing to thread their way through a construction area, risk a parking ticket and then hop over a Jersey barrier.

But not every business along the 16-mile route of the still-under-construction Purple Line is so lucky.

Some — watching business fade as a result of the construction outside their doors — have shuttered for good.

That’s why a special appropriation of $231,000 is being introduced Tuesday by the Montgomery County Council. That money is intended to help small businesses weather the revenue losses resulting from the disruptions of the ongoing transit construction.

The lead sponsor of the legislation, Councilmember Evan Glass (D), was among the officials attending a news conference Monday on efforts to help small businesses affected by Purple Line construction.

“On Saturday, we celebrated Small Business Saturday, but we have to celebrate small businesses every single day,” Glass said.

Council President Tom Hucker (D), who represents Silver Spring, said while the completion of the Purple Line has promise for future businesses, “we live in the present, and so many of our small businesses have been harmed in real time, year after year, by the disruption from this construction.”

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) also supports the appropriation, saying there is precedent for offering grants to businesses in similar circumstances.

“Montgomery County has a little bit of experience with this,” he said. “We stepped in in Silver Spring, and we stepped in in Wheaton, where redevelopment projects were impacting our small businesses and we put some money up.”

There could be more money coming from the state of Maryland, if Annapolis lawmakers from Montgomery County have their way.

State Delegates Jheanelle Wilkins, Lorig Charkoudian and David Moon, all Democrats who represent District 20 in the southern portion of the county, appeared at Monday’s news conference to say that when lawmakers head to Annapolis for a special session next week, they’ll push to free up $2 million in state funds.

The delegates said they intend to override Gov. Lawrence. J. Hogan Jr.’s veto of a transportation bill that, among other things, would have provided $2 million for businesses that have been operating since 2017 and have been affected by the Purple Line construction.

During Monday’s news conference, Wilkins said she was calling on the governor “to be a partner with us, so that Maryland can be open for business, so that our District 20 businesses can be open throughout and after the construction.”

Along with providing $2 million in the form of grants for businesses affected by Purple Line construction, the legislation Hogan vetoed would have extended provisions of a transit funding act by seven years. When he announced the veto of HB114 and SB199, Hogan wrote that implementation of the legislation was “not feasible at this time.”

The lawmakers said they expect their effort to override the governor’s veto to be successful.

During the press conference, Charkoudian shared the story of watching a customer clamber over a Jersey barrier to get to Kefa Café.

“I would climb a high wall to get to Kefa Café,” the lawmaker said. “That’s how good the coffee is.” But she added: “It is hard enough to survive right now in this environment, and to have people climbing Jersey barriers to get to your front door, that’s a struggle.”

Lene Tsegay, co-owner of Kefa Café, said she appreciated the work of the state lawmakers, and she took the opportunity to challenge the County Council to support proposed state legislation on forming a business improvement district.

As part of Maryland Matters’ content sharing agreement with WTOP, we feature this article from Kate Ryan. Click here for the WTOP News website.