The town of Parry Sound has announced that it needs to add more money to its coffers so an increase from 50 cents an hour to 75 cents in parking meter rates goes into effect on January 1. The city fathers claim that, compared to other towns the size of Parry Sound, parking in the downtown area is a bargain.
The Downtown Business Association (DBA) is calling foul as they see it as one more nail in the coffin to keep folks from shopping in the downtown area.
I think they are right in that my wife and I are (probably) typical shoppers who live outside of town, and we make a weekly trek in to do the normal shopping, from haircuts to groceries, hardware stores and of course the LCBO.
Do we shop in downtown Parry Sound?
Why not? Two words, parking meters.
Other than the two Home Hardware stores and the LCBO (they all have their own parking lots) we, along with a lot of our neighbours, do not shop in downtown Parry Sound.
On occasion, when we are forced to do business in the downtown area (mainly for banking), the meter is fed what we think it needs, clocks set, hurry to the bank, do what business we have to do and out in a hurry before the meter runs out.
Or, I’ll wait in the car while my wife scurries into the Kitchen Cupboard for some bulk food stuff or the Parry Sound Sewing Center for material for her latest knitting project.
But let’s back this up a couple of months, where we were invited to a downtown morning meeting that was being held in the Royal Canadian Legion hall on Mary Street.
We parked (for free) in the meeting hall’s parking lot. When the meeting was over, we were told we could leave our car where it was, so off we went to browse, shop and eat in the downtown area.
It was a pleasant experience.
First we took our time and a leisurely walk down James to Bay Street.
Then back up to James where we enjoyed a most delicious and reasonable lunch at a café we had never been to before.
After lunch, our browsing took us through several stores with no fear of the meter running out. My wife purchased a couple of books and she bought a curio item. It was too much money, but we both liked it and bought it anyway.
Some two hours later and back at our car, a good time was enjoyed and some one hundred dollars spent.
Then off to the grocery and hardware stores and of course Canadian Tire to finish off our day.
If it hadn’t been for the free parking, the $100 wouldn’t have been spent.
Not even for a lunch as we normally time our shopping trips to leave or arrive back home in time to eat.
This experience got me curious, so I started asking friends and neighbours of their experiences of shopping downtown Parry Sound and the parking meter situation.
The following is hardly a scientific poll, but does give some insight into what consumers think and do.
T.C. – I avoid downtown like the plague.
H.M. – I’ll shop downtown and will put my money in the meters but I’m always fearful of not being back in time so I don’t do much browsing of the shops in the downtown area.
J.P. – The parking meters don’t bother me one way or another as I don’t put any money in them.
If I get a ticket, it’s just the cost of parking in downtown Parry sound. So far I’ve never gotten a ticket. Yet.
T. and wife S. A. – We just don’t go to downtown Parry Sound as we never carry change for those damn meters.
Another interesting fact is that they are not complaining about the cost of putting money in a meter, the biggest reason why they do not like the meters is the fear of receiving a parking ticket if they are tardy by a few minutes.
I have been told that there is a 12-minute grace period built into each meter.
It appears that a lot of non-local people simply do not shop in the downtown area.
How many people does that represent? A lot. It’s estimated that for every five people that shop at Walmart, Canadian Tire, No Frills or other non-downtown business and in a non-tourist season, that four of these people do not pay their taxes to the Town of Parry Sound. In other words they don’t live in the town itself.
Methinks the downtown businesses miss seeing these folks in their stores entirely.
What’s the answer? Some business owners such as Doris Muckenheim, owner of The Wolf Den on James Street and Liz McWalter, chair of the Downtown Business Association would like the town to follow the lead taken by the City of Huntsville and remove the meters and go to a two-hour maximum parking limit. According to Helena Renwick of Huntsville’s BIA (Business Improvement Area) the change has been quite successful with the fear that the employees of the businesses would grab up the parking spots not happening.
Huntsville’s Mayor Claude Doughty claims that the downtown businesses enjoyed a prosperous summer with sales up more than 15 per cent over last year.
The downside? According to Andrew Stillar, a bylaw officer for the City of Huntsville, is that the city now has to use taxpayer dollars to make up the loss of revenue from the parking meters. Mayor Doughty feels the increase in business for the downtown merchants far outweighs the offsetting cost.
In a conversation with Iain Laing, Parry Sound’s director of community development, he states that there hasn’t been an increase in parking meter rates in over 12 years and one is needed just to keep up with the cost of doing business.
He claims that following Huntsville’s lead just isn’t going to happen as the town doesn’t want to give up the revenue, plus facing the fact if the meters were removed, the people grabbing the parking spots would not be downtown shoppers, it would be the employees of the two major real estate office’s and the three banks plus the employees of the various downtown businesses who would be using the parking spots, not customers.
According to Mayor Doughty this hasn’t happened in his city as the downtown merchants are policing themselves to keep employees from not parking in the customer parking areas.
Perhaps what the mayor and the councillors for Parry Sound should do is in a year’s time, follow-up Huntsville’s success to see if a repeat could happen in Parry Sound
What most shoppers and some merchants don’t know and told to me by Iain Laing is that the town does have a relief mechanism in place for those shoppers who have been delayed or have a valid excuse for not getting back to their vehicle in time.
Items such as staying longer than expected at a doctor’s office or through some other circumstance when his or her vehicle gets ticketed.
They can then take the ticket to City Hall (52 Seguin Street) present the ticket and fill out a form stating the reason for the delay.
The bylaw officer can review it and maybe the parking ticket will be rescinded.
Perhaps an awareness campaign can be done by the DBA and signs posted in each shop that would help to make shoppers more aware of it.
A suggestion could be that on the parking ticket and in bold print, adding a message of how the ticket can be reviewed and perhaps rescinded.
Anything that can be done to take the fear of getting a ticket away from the shopper, could put more of them into the downtown business area.
What I do know right now is that the downtown businesses of Parry Sound are losing a lot of money from folks like my wife and me who just don’t shop there.
My take on the parking meter war.
(David Foote has been a cottage owner in Skerryvore for 42 years. His love of family and of The Bay were the inspiration of a book he wrote titled “Footprints in Skerryvore: it’s history from the late 1800’s to present time”)