Free parking bugs merchants

Some businesses say Durango plan has backfired

Keywords: Durango,
Drivers circled downtown Durango on Friday as parking spots proved difficult to find now that meters are free during the Christmas shopping season. The city is installing 1,200 new parking meters. Enlargephoto

JENNAYE DERGE/Durango Herald

Drivers circled downtown Durango on Friday as parking spots proved difficult to find now that meters are free during the Christmas shopping season. The city is installing 1,200 new parking meters.

As sleigh bells ring and the countdown to Christmas begins, the city has been promoting free downtown parking for holiday shoppers as it replaces 1,200 parking meters. But there is just one small problem: There’s no where left to park.

Durango Business Development Manager Bob Kunkel said timing meter replacements, originally slated for August, was the city’s move, and promoting free parking for holiday shopping was a sliver lining accompanying the delay into December.

But some say it backfired.

“I get it,” said Alan Cuenca, owner of Put-a-Cork-in-It, 121 East 10th St. “Idealistically, it was a good idea, but ultimately what has happened is all the employees that work downtown are taking full advantage of the free parking, and not leaving any for people who come downtown to shop.”

Cuenca said he has noticed some motorists driving dangerously, pulling aggressive maneuvers to secure their spot before spreading commerce and holiday cheer.

“It’s created a frantic frenzy just to find a spot,” he said.

Jackson Clark, owner of Toh-Atin Gallery at 145 West Ninth St., said he doesn’t understand the timing coming during the holidays.

“I think the city didn’t think the whole thing through,” he said. “It’s been difficult, and we’ve had costumers who have complained.”

Clark said a slower time of year would have been better for businesses.

More opportune times could have been selected he said. “We have down time in January. That would have been the time to do it.”

There are, however, two sides to every downtown Christmas dollar.

At 707 Main Ave., Magpie’s Newsstand owner Tom Mulligan said he appreciates the extra encouragement to get people on Main Avenue.

“I think it’s a great thing,” he said. “I don’t see a downside to this, myself.”

Mulligan said parking might be tough, but it won’t last long.

“I imagine some people will take advantage of it, but it can’t go on forever.”

Kunkel said some congestion had been anticipated, and it reveals the importance and added functionality of the new parking meters.

“We talked about (congestion) as a possible outcome, and I’ve noticed that every space in town is taken, but this enforces the job that parking meters do, and that’s to create turnover,” he said.

Turnover, he added, equals one thing: more shoppers for businesses.

“That’s why a parking spot is valuable to a merchant,” he said. “It’s turnover, and the more turnover the better.”

Durango Business Improvement District Manager Tim Walsworth said he is getting mixed reports from downtown merchants.

“We’ve been monitoring this very closely, and out on the street talking to people,” he said. “Anecdotally, some merchants don’t like it. However, others are reporting more traffic in their business and a great week of sales.”

Tax collections early next year, he said, will tell how effective free Christmas-season parking has been.

“We won’t really know until the sales-tax figures come out in February, but from the merchants we’ve spoken to, most of them are saying it’s a good month.”

At Toh-Atin, Clark said many of his costumers are calling in business, saying they couldn’t park.

“And it’s hard if people can’t walk two or three blocks,” he said. “There are a lot of people like that in Durango. People just call and say, ‘I couldn’t get down there.’”

Kunkel said an email went out to merchants asking them to encourage employees to forsake open spots for shoppers.

“The premise was great,” Cuenca said, “but it didn’t turn out that way.”

The issue should resolve itself when 1,200 new meters will be up and running, along with the cost to park downtown.

bmathis@durangoherald.com