Detroit Street Filling Station is Open

The ongoing construction on Catherine Street might be putting one business’s future in jeopardy.


The road construction that’s been going for nearly a month outside Community High School is driving customers away with its noisy and intrusive nature and is submarining the sales of Phillis Engelbert’s Detroit Filling Station.

“You might be trading in a restaurant for a buffered bike lane,” typed Engelbert in an email to a city official.

Since it was announced on Aug. 22 that Miller Avenue/Catherine Street would be closed between First and Division street to put in a bike lane and repair water pipes, Engelbert has met with the city administrator, the mayor, various city council members and three different Downtown Development Authority Board members to voice her concerns. On the days when the construction is active, the restaurant averages about $2,000 less in sales revenue than what they expect for this time of year. If this trend continues, Engelbert worries the restaurant might not last long enough to benefit from the added bike lane. The drop in revenue brings up a discussion about reducing Detroit Street’s expenses, which might include lowering prices. 

Engelbert opened the Detroit Street Filling Station in 2017, after outgrowing and eventually closing her first restaurant, The Lunchroom, in Kerrytown. The Filling Station features an extensively decorated outdoor patio and a “jungle” of hanging plants. Engelbert spends hours every day maintaining this decor in the hopes of creating an attractive and welcoming environment. When she was first notified of the project, only days before it began, she wondered how it would stand in the way of her vision.

“I was concerned about the hours of construction, and [if] it would affect our dinner, whether [with] clouds of dust billowing [or] ear-splitting noise,” Engelbert said. “I was assured ‘no.’ But it’s all happening.”

Since construction began to pick up in September, Engelbert has received countless calls from frustrated patrons, confused about how to navigate the construction site. She watched her entire patio clear of customers one night, as a loud jackhammer dug into the street directly across from her restaurant. She has had to ask for signs wrongfully stating that “Detroit Street is closed” to be removed, and tapes “open” signs over the “closed signs.”

Engelbert recalls a night that she even called the cops on the construction workers that were disturbing her customers during dinner hours. The police told Engelbert there was nothing they could do, as the workers were within their legal limit.

“I didn’t have a leg to stand on [but] I called them anyway,” Engelbert said. “I said ‘I really want you to convince them to stop because if you don’t, you’re gonna have a much bigger problem.’ Because myself and some of my staff were prepared to sit down in front of the equipment.”

While the construction is set to last for another few months, Engelbert has ideas that could make the project less disturbing. She is advocating for the bulk of the work to be done in the morning hours when many of the businesses are not open yet. She also wonders if closing one block at a time would lessen the impact. 

“When so much blood [and] sweat and tears and love go into your business, to be blindsided by something that will blow you up is really hard to take,” Engelbert said. “[But] with enough knowledge and organizing and planning and communication, there’s ways you can speak up for your interests.”