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Some shoppers, merchants not feeling jolly over parking

December 20, 2001

Some shoppers, merchants not feeling jolly over parking



By KEVIN VERZICH / Staff Writer


'Tis the season to be jolly, but some residents and downtown Martinsburg merchants aren't so jolly this year as a result of the city's decision to discontinue the free parking during the Christmas shopping season.

Sharon Flick, Martinsburg city recorder and parking attendant supervisor, said the main reason the city stopped offering the free parking downtown was because some merchants and residents abused it.

According to the April 12 minutes from the Martinsburg Parking Authority, several alternatives for Christmas parking were discussed.

The possible solutions ranged from two-hour free parking cards placed on windshields and totally free parking to no free parking.

Flick said the consensus of authority members was to recommend to council that there be no free parking this Christmas season. There are more than 900 parking meters in the city, according to Flick.

"There was no way to monitor the amount of time people were parking in the limited downtown spaces," Flick said. "People were parking in spots all day."

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Brenda Casabona, owner of De Fluri's Fine Chocolates store downtown, said she believes the city should have continued to offer the free parking this season.

She said it hurts the downtown economy because people would rather go to a shopping mall with plenty of parking spaces than to try finding a space downtown. The parking meters accept nickels, dimes and quarters, which pay for a range of time depending on where the meters are located.

"The city is sending a bad message to customers," Casabona said. "It's like saying, 'We don't want your business downtown.' It's a psychological issue."

Casabona said she understands the city's reasons for discontinuing the public courtesy, but said there might have been other options.

"I understand that people have abused the policy in the past," Casabona said. "But maybe they could have looked into chalking tires or possibly doing away with parking meters altogether."

Daniel Hornbaker, 50, of Martinsburg, said he frequents the downtown area every day. He said he believed it was wrong to stop the free holiday parking.

"The city complains all the time about people not shopping downtown, but then they take away the free parking," Hornbaker said. "Why don't they make up their minds? I talked to many residents and most of them agree with me."

Jess Mauck, owner of Crim de la Crim antique shop, said many of his customers have complained this year.

"The free parking enhances business," Mauck said.

Another downtown customer, who asked not to be identified, suggested Martinsburg should consider taking the meters out altogether.

"In my mother's town, they chalk people's tires," he said. "It seems to work there, why not here?"

Flick said the city can't enforce any other solution. She said a survey of the downtown merchants was taken earlier this year, and merchants were split 50-50 on the issue.

Half of the merchants surveyed wanted the free parking to continue while half wanted the practice stopped.

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