MANCHESTER — Stepped-up meter enforcement downtown may mean more revenue for the city, but it also has residents and shop owners grumbling that it’s putting a damper on business.
At least one business, Music & Arts, the instrument shop prominently located down the block from City Hall on Elm Street, will soon be relocating to South Willow Street. In a circular, the business noted that its new location would have abundant parking. (The landmark Ted Herbert’s Music School will remain upstairs from the ground floor space.)
At a public hearing Tuesday, Glenn R.J. Ouellette, a local activist, told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that 12-hour parking enforcement was pushing businesses like Music & Arts to leave downtown. “We’re trying to be Boston, and we’re not,” he said. “I’m proud we’re Manchester.”
Justin Wright, the store manager at Music & Arts, said on Wednesday that parking was “a factor,” but wasn’t the main reason the store was relocating. He said the new location will allow the store to offer music lessons, which had been prohibited under its lease agreement with Herbert’s.
Still, Wright said, parking was a common complaint from customers.
“Renting or buying an instrument will often take longer than expected, and we often have customers having to go out to feed the meter. So having a parking lot will be a benefit,” he said, while adding, “There area a lot of things we like about downtown.”
The aldermen gave final approval last month to new parking ordinances that will extend parking enforcement from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Friday, across the entire downtown area, from the Millyard to Union Street, and from Harrison Street in the north to Granite Street. Meters are also being enforced on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Elm Street from Bridge Street to Auburn Street.
The more intensive parking enforcement may be particularly problematic for established retail businesses whose customers were accustomed to coming in at the end of the workday or on Saturday, as opposed to the bars and restaurants that have increasingly come to dominate downtown.
Holly Auger, a manager at George’s Apparel, the clothier that has been on Elm Street for more than 60 years, said neither employees of the store nor its customers were “very pleased” with the increased meter enforcement.
“Our customers were familiar with parking so most knew where to park, but now (the meters) are pretty much everywhere,” she said, adding that Saturday enforcement was especially unwelcome.
At the same time, Auger said the owner of the store wasn’t considering leaving downtown at this point.
“We have been here,” she said. “If the owner was younger, it may be a different scenario.”
Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, whose district covers much of downtown, said he understood the concerns of the businesses, but he noted that parking has long been at a premium downtown.
“I think parking is always going to be somebody’s issue,” he said. “But it’s not the reason businesses decide to leave. It may be part of it, but the majority of time ... the reason hasn’t been the parking.”
Still, Long said he was “reassessing” the decision to extend 12-hour enforcement to the outer limits of downtown, in particular north of Bridge Street, where there are more retail shops and residences than nightlife.
“Now we can look at pockets on Elm Street and see what their specific needs are,” he said.