On a recent morning, the mood at the Gum Tree, a café and boutique on Pier Avenue, was typically tranquil.
Shoppers perused the extensive selection of candles, mirrors and high-end toys as the smell of bacon tempted patrons to sample the breakfast menu and John Lennon crooned one of his mellower offerings.
Not for long.
The teeth-grinding sound of a jackhammer tearing through concrete suddenly tore through the Gum Tree, obliterating the peaceful ambiance.
It's an all-too-familiar scene for retailers and restaurateurs situated within range of the ongoing Pier Avenue Improvement Project, some of whom are struggling to stay viable until the project wraps up in the coming months.
Will Ford, who co-owns Gum Tree with his wife, Lori Ford, is philosophical about the disruption. "Breakfast business is down 60 percent," he said. "But what can you do?"
At Sol Baby, a high-end children's boutique, owner Gina Rothwell voiced similar concerns. "There aren't a lot of people out at all and I don't know if that's due to the construction," Rothwell said. "They probably don't know where to park or think it will be a hassle."
Still, Rick Morgan, director of public works for the city, said he is confident that the benefits will outweigh the complications endured by local shops.
"There is a lot of dust and noise," he acknowledged. "Business owners have nonetheless been very supportive."
The aim of the project, funded in part with a $1.3 million federal stimulus grant, is to encourage community foot traffic and environmentally friendly practices.
Improvements include wider sidewalks, a landscaped center median on Pier Avenue and an overpass for pedestrians to cross the avenue at Valley Drive. Traditional street lamps will be replaced with energy-efficient induction lighting and a runoff diverson system that will keep tainted water from flowing into the ocean.
"All of the irrigation for the greenbelt landscape will be with reclaimed water," Morgan said.
Spanning from the top of Ardmore Avenue and Valley Drive and intersecting Pier Avenue all the way down to Hermosa Avenue, the project has been disrupting business off and on for six years.
The latest – and final – phase of the project began in January of 2010 and is expected to reach completion by July, in the midst of Hermosa Beach's busy summer season.
"We had a long public process, with public debate, so I believe the majority of residents are just looking forward to the end results." Morgan said.
One benefit of the project's completion will be more room for outdoor dining, but for now, the ruckus is keeping patrons at bay.
"We have this beautiful patio, and no one wants to sit outside when they're pouring concrete and tearing up the street," Lori Ford said.
"As a resident, it's great," Will Ford said. "As a small business owner, it's a little challenging."