A city policy meant to liberate parking spaces could mean the death knell for mom and pop shops in Park Slope, area merchants warned this week.
“They are killing us,” said Irene Lo Re, president of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District and owner of Aunt Suzie’s Restaurant on Fifth Avenue. “They are killing small businesses one regulation at a time.”
Local businesses fear the Department of Transportation (DOT) will again increase parking rates in the neighborhood, driving away an already parking rattled customer base.
In May, the DOT began a six-month pilot program called Park Smart along Fifth Avenue between Sackett Street and Third Street, and Seventh Avenue between Lincoln Place and Sixth Street, raising parking rates to $1.50 an hour, up 50 cents. The rationale for the program, which was also launched with reported success in Greenwich Village, is to increase available parking by making it pricier during times when demand is highest. The new rates are effective Monday through Saturday, from noon to 4 p.m., considered peak demand hours.
The agency is now discussing increasing the hourly rate to $3, but is also considering increases to $2 or $2.50 per hour.
“If they go to $3 an hour, the merchants here are really going to revolt,” Lo Re predicted, wondering why a customer would pay that amount just to park when they could go to a big box store and park for free instead. “Let’s get realistic: they’re adding $6.00 or more to the cost of going shopping,” she calculated.
Scott Gastel, a spokesperson for the DOT, said the city has not yet made any decision on rate changes. On Sept. 9, as this paper went to press, the agency was meeting with area merchants to discuss the program. He said his agency originally suggested a pilot rate of $2 an hour, but at the suggestion of the community, went with $1.50 an hour, proof he said, of the agency consulting with the community at every decision point.
Gastel said in Park Slope, merchants and shoppers find that a lack of parking is a big problem that results in shoppers going to bigger retailers rather than neighborhood mom and pops. The point of the pilot is to promote local retail, and by increasing parking turnover will do just that, he said.
The DOT has not yet receive a letter of complaint about the pilot program, and will survey drivers and merchants about their experience in October and then decide whether to make the change permanent. The city, Gastel insisted, shares the same goals as local merchants.
But Joe Leopoldi, owner of a hardware store that bears his name on Fifth Avenue, said the city is just looking out for itself. “They are proving that it’s not about looking out for the merchants, its about looking out for the city’s income — that’s not me talking, that’s customers talking.”
Leopoldi, whose store is not in the pilot area, said businesses will suffer while the city coffers fatten. “No one wants to spend more money [on parking],” he said.
Judi Pheiffer, owner of Bob and Judi’s Coolectibles on Fifth Avenue, said increased parking rates make strolling along the neighborhood’s commercial strips a thing of the past. “People are running in and out of stores rather than leisurely shopping,” she said.
Since the program’s inception, Pheiffer said, she has heard from many customers who have been ticketed, unaware that their quarters buy less time than they did previously. “The city realizes that it needed to raise money, so they did it in a neighborhood where they know people pay their tickets,” she charged. “I don’t think this is a very small business friendly initiative at all.”
Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6,said it is premature to judge the city’s efforts. “We encourage the DOT to continue to work with the merchants to make sure this is a plan that’s a good fit for Park Slope,” he said.
©2009 Community News Group
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