Some business owners on Gray Street believe the eventual completion of a two-way road conversion could bring more patronage to the shops in the corridor, and others have concerns about future parking availability and how the project will affect their operations.
Norman residents here since the early 70s saw the transformation of Main Street and Gray Street to one-way, following a nationwide trend at the time.
Two-way Gray Street will make its return when the city completes a conversion project slated for Spring 2023.
The project will begin in 2023 after it got pushed back a year, according to city officials.
Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said the 2019 Transportation Bond Election identified the Gray Street Project as one of five bond projects to be fully funded with roughly $4.8 million in bond money.
The remaining 14 of 19 bond projects were expected to receive federal funding to be matched with local bond funding.
O’Leary said the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments “changed the formula for receiving federal transportation grant funds,” and as a result, the city reassessed their approach to the bond program.
“Two-way Gray” became eligible this year for more than $1.7 million in federal transportation grant funds, but the use of the federal funds meant a six-month delay in construction to ensure the project met federal guidelines.
The project will take an estimated 9-12 months to complete, O’Leary said.
Devonne Carter, owner of Betty Lou’s Flowers and Gifts, said her parents Dwight and Betty Lou Mitchell brought the business to Gray Street 24 years ago.
The shop sits just west of University Boulevard, where the two-way street ends.
Carter said the project has the potential to revitalize the area, which has seen a number of businesses vacate in the last few years.
“A ton of businesses have gone out at the corner by [where] Norman Music Center [was],” Carter said. “Recently, it’s like a ghost town right there.”
Ultimately, Carter believes the added convenience of driving both ways down Gray Street will prove beneficial for the businesses on Gray Street east of University Boulevard.
But she isn’t sure it will have any affect on her patron volume.
“I think two-way Gray will be great, and it will bring more business to the businesses on that end of the street,” Carter said.
Jerry Steele, co-owner of J-Byrd Boutique, said two-way traffic down Gray Street would mean increased visibility of the shop, which is hard to see due to the pawn shop next door.
“They’re by us before they even realize there’s a store,” Steele said.
He hopes once the construction on Gray Street is complete that traffic will slow down.
Steele said the combination of a two-way street and the eventual arrival of The Standard will strengthen the synergy between Main Street and Gray Street during events like Second Friday Art Walk, of which J–Byrd Boutique is a participant.
“We’re 100 feet away from it, and we get very little business out of it,” Steele said.
But not every business is optimistic about the construction. Emily Soreghan and Braden Denton, co-owners of worker-owned Gray Owl Coffee, say the chief concern among the collective is that Gray Street could see similar effects to what businesses on Lindsey Street experienced during that road project. Lindsey Street construction began in 2015 and completed in 2018.
Soreghan said they hope the project will mean more people patroning the shop, but remain concerned about what street closures mean for it.
“We’ve been a bit concerned about whether we’ll just be shut down, or access to the shop will be shut down,” Soreghan said. “Small shops like us don’t have a ton of resources. I feel like on Lindsey Street, you saw how the shops that were able to survive were mostly chains that could withstand one of their locations being shut down for 12 months.”
Denton said he’s concerned about parking in the area, and hopes a two-way Gray Street doesn’t take away the spots just outside the strip they occupy.
He said the shop depends on those spots.
O’Leary did not immediately respond to request for comment Friday regarding the concerns.
But Denton is also tentatively excited to see the project he’s heard about for years finally commence.
“It could do more harm in the short term, but it seems like it’s the right move for the area,” Denton said.