"If you're trying on clothes, you can't go running out to feed the meter," she said.
Ruda added that parking rates in the parking deck are too high, and that the way parking currently is handled "discourages people from coming downtown." Nevertheless, she said, "I don't know what the answer is."
Troy Gifft, owner of T.G. Designs, said parking problems have decreased since he opened at his new location on South Potomac Street. He has 15-minute parking right in front of the store, he said. But he said he's had customers ask about parking, and when he tells them about the parking deck, some customers - particularly older women - say they're afraid to park there.
William Haberlein, owner of Atomic Comics on West Washington Street, said his customers are having an easier time now that road construction projects are completed.
"They don't talk a lot about it, but they do say it's getting better," Haberlein said. "I do have people who prefer to come on the weekend" when more spaces are available. "But I haven't had people ranting and raving about it."
To find out whether the lack of parking is a valid complaint, The Herald-Mail recently conducted a count of available spaces on a random weekday afternoon when all downtown businesses were open.
Not counting the short-term red metered spaces, there were open parking spaces on nearly every block of the core downtown area, with half a dozen in the first block of West Washington Street alone, and even more on West Franklin Street.
There were more than 150 available spaces in the parking deck on North Potomac Street, and more than 90 more were open in the city's Central Lot behind the Elizabeth Hager Center.
Using a pedometer, The Herald-Mail measured the distance from the parking deck to Bentley's New York Bagels, located more than a block away on West Washington Street, and compared that distance with parking at Valley Mall and Prime Outlets.
The distance from the front entrance of the parking deck to Bentley's was approximately .12 miles. At Prime Outlets, the distance from the more remote parking area to the closest store was about .14 miles. At Valley Mall, the distance from a remote area behind the building to the nearest entrance was about .8 miles.
In all, the city government manages about 1,688 metered or permitted parking spaces downtown. A planned second parking deck for South Potomac Street would add more than 200 spaces downtown, Everhart said.
A major difference between parking downtown and parking at the mall or the outlets, however, is that downtown patrons pay for parking while mall and outlet shoppers park free.
And once they park at the mall or the outlets, there are more stores to choose from.
To accommodate Christmas shoppers, the city is offering two hours of free parking in the deck through the week. Parking also will be free in the deck after 7 p.m. Normally, patrons pay $1 to park in the deck after hours.
City officials aren't offering free parking in metered spaces, Everhart said, because "our past experience has been that downtown employees will park there and there won't be any spaces for customers."
But parking always is free on weekends, she added, and after 5 p.m. on weekdays in metered spaces.
New businesses also are opening downtown, Everhart noted. Four, including Appalachian Gifts-n-Stuff, have opened in the last quarter. Everhart expects another to open on West Washington Street this month, she said.