Views mixed on paid meters; Merchants' reactions vary over repeal of free holiday parking; 'Think it's long overdue'; Officials expect rise in number of tickets issued this season


While Main Street merchants had a mixed reaction to Westminster's ending a 20-year-old tradition of free parking meters during the holiday season, many shoppers seemed unaware of the change.

The biggest effect probably will be felt by the city's meter monitor, Michaelle Leone, who said she expects to write more tickets this holiday season for people who don't know the tradition has ended.

Members of the Westminster Business Association asked the city to end the practice because many customers didn't know meters were free from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day and continued to feed them -- while office workers who did know the custom tied up spaces from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For these reasons, Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan told the Common Council on Monday night that the tradition would end this year.

"Last year, we had quite a few complaints, believe it or not, when we had free parking from Thanksgiving to New Year's," he said. "Office workers took up the metered spaces, so there wasn't enough space for the customers."

Most downtown merchants interviewed echoed that complaint and supported the end of the practice, although several worried that faithful customers, long accustomed to the holiday goodwill gesture, would be unhappy about finding parking tickets on their windshields.

"I'm just guessing," said Leone, but "within the first week or two, when it would normally be free, I'll probably write an above-average number of tickets."

That concerns Stephen Hossler, owner of Davids Jewellers at 41 E. Main St. The store has been on East Main Street since 1952, and the tradition of free meters has existed "as long as I've been here -- and I've been here 19 years."

"I think that it's a shame," Hossler said. "I personally think that the city is making a mistake. For one month out of a year it couldn't cause a problem if the police did their job."

Hossler said he hadn't heard complaints, "but I'm sure there will be."

At City Hall, the mayor's office had received no complaints about the end of the tradition, nor had city police or the Planning and Public Works Department.

Shoppers along Main Street seemed generally unconcerned about the change.

"We were just talking about it, that there would probably be a lot of tickets because it's been a tradition" said Beverly McKinney, but "it's not going to be a problem for me."

But Delores Wilson of Taneytown, who shops downtown every week, said it would affect her. "It's a shame they don't have it. It will be more difficult."

Leone, 29, has held the civilian post "four years this Saturday," she said and usually averages 35 $5 tickets a day, with a high of about 50.

She can't give any slack to people who don't know about the change, she said. "The only way I give them a break is if I'm not out there. It seems a lot of people don't read the paper, so if they figure it's been free parking for so many years, they'll figure it's free again."

Leone said she covers seven parking lots, and meters on Main Street, around the courthouse and along Liberty, Bond, Anchor and Pennsylvania.

At the recently reopened Harry's Main Street Grille, at 65 W. Main St., owner Harry Sirinakis said, "I didn't know they decided not to do it, but I knew it was in the air.

"We're OK with parking," he said, with a 27-space lot behind the restaurant and 54 spaces available next door. Still, he said, he and his employees pass up the lot and park on nearby streets.

Last week, Harry's had patrons from Baltimore to Kentucky -- unaware and unconcerned about of Westminster's meter policy.

Sandy Scott, president of the Westminster Business Association, said she hadn't taken a formal poll of members but that the majority supported ending free parking.

R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of Greater Westminster Development Corp., said, "We knew it was coming because the last couple years, it's been more of a mess than anything else. I think the mayor did the right thing to go without it this year."

"I think it's great -- long overdue," said Tim Bryson, owner of Locust Books at 9 E. Main St., which opened in 1980. "But it's also very unfortunate. There was a problem with people who come in, business owners, employees, who sometimes were coming to park all day at metered spaces.

"The whole point of meters is to try to ensure a turnover of parking spaces," he said, but "at the beginning of every day, the slots would be filled and you'd see the cars there all day. It was very frustrating."

Next door at Giulianova Groceria, owner Tony D'Eugenio said he supported the holiday free parking. Since his shop became the downtown post office in August, he is required to leave the short-term metered spaces in front open for postal patrons.

"Of course it's a bad idea" to end it, he said of free meters. "I know how hard parking is. I'd do anything to promote business on Main Street. That's why I'm here, since 1986."

Craig R. Scott, owner of Willow Bend Books and Family Line Publications at 65 E. Main St., said he doesn't have a problem because 85 percent of his business is by mail order, although he's become active in the business association since arriving. At Coffey Music, WBA member and owner Robert M. Coffey said, "My biggest gripe when you have the free parking is the abuse: It's taken up by workers who don't rely on customer traffic -- the office folks." Coffey's 15-year-old business took over the space left after the Mather's department store closed in 1996.

"My biggest concern is the customers who are used to the free parking," said Coffey. "They will assume it's free -- and they will get nabbed."

Hossler voiced a similar concern about the end of the Westminster tradition.

"They've set it up every year," he said. "There may be a lot of older people who won't understand this -- and they'll get a ticket and they won't understand. A lot of my customers may come here just once a year to shop, and I'm sure I will hear some complaints."

Pub Date: 11/25/99

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