Lyon’s roar echoes in cyberspace

WOUNDED LYON <br>The independently owned bookstore on Fifth Street near the downtown post office has suffered from the protracted renovation of Downtown Plaza Park.

The independently owned bookstore on Fifth Street near the downtown post office has suffered from the protracted renovation of Downtown Plaza Park.

Photo By Carla Resnick

The alarm went off about Lyon Books in the form of a well-circulated e-mail message explaining that its owner, Heather Lyon, was in deep despair over a serious lack of business. The culprit, according to the e-mail, was the ever-extended construction of Downtown Plaza Park.

The e-mail has turned into a chain letter of sorts, being forwarded to different groups and circles of association.

“The response has been amazing,” said Lyon, saying last Thursday and Friday were “the busiest two days since Christmas.” Even Greg Jones, Chico’s new city manager, came into the store the morning of April 7 to ask how he could help, she said.

When Lyon Books opened in November 2003, the Downtown Plaza Park was a green island across 5th Street. The park has since become a full-scale construction zone. Late last summer it was stripped of its trees, grass and wooden bandstand, which were replaced by heavy equipment and dirt and, more recently, cinderblock band shell and restrooms. The construction site has eaten up sidewalks on all of its sides and three lanes of roadway and parking—one each on Broadway, 4th and Main streets.

Lyon has seen a steady decline in business since the beginning of the construction, and even her Christmas shopping season was greatly diminished from previous years. It’s been heading downhill since then. She has reduced her staff, been working more hours and ordering less stock just to be able to make payroll, she said. This even after her landlords gave her a generous rent break after she sent them photos documenting the impact.

Lyon faults the delayed construction as the main source of her woes. She did place some blame on various other influences; lack of street lighting caused by the construction effectively killed off her evening business, she said, and the extended rainy weather and general economic downturn and the negative press the park project has received have all been keeping people away.

Lyon has been seeking relief from the city for months, asking for assistance with parking changes, money for promotional advertising and to get the street lights back on. Her requests had almost all been denied (the city had changed the rules to allow parking on 5th Street, but it was used mostly by construction workers and post office employees), until the e-mail started circulating.

The city has since offered to purchase advertising showing the park project boundaries, pointing out that the streets are open, and identifying locations of available parking. Parking along the fence will be limited to two hours, and the city will also be asking construction and post office employees not to park along the 5th Street fence. The lights on 5th Street will come back on as soon as possible, and Lyon will also be allowed, temporarily, to place signage on the sidewalk.

Lyon says she hopes these changes will help, and she is deeply moved by the outpouring of community support but expressed concern that it not be “just a blip.”

Lyon Books is located at 121 W. 5th St. between Main and Broadway.