Merchants Seek Parking Limits To Boost Turnover

BERLIN – Merchants in Berlin who want to limit parking in the Main Street vicinity to two hours at a time to promote customer turnover got Berlin Mayor and Council’s approval in principle to pursue proposed new parking restrictions Monday night.

Merchant Bill Outten, owner of Town Center Antiques and A Step Above, and business owner Gail Lewis of M.R. Ducks, presented the proposal to the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday night and were asked to bring a more detailed version back later this month.

“As time goes on, parking on Main Street is becoming more and more an issue. There is more people wanting parking,” Outten said. “The demand is getting higher and higher. … As for us merchants, it hits home. It really hits us in the pocket book.”

Outten and Lewis told the council that downtown apartment dwellers and employees at downtown businesses tend to take up Main Street parking for hours or days at a time, leaving customers fewer or less convenient parking options. Turnover means more customers, Lewis said.

Employees and residents need to be reminded to park away from Main Street in public parking facilities, proponents of the change said.

Landlords should be required to remind their tenants to park on back streets, said Councilwoman Lisa Hall. Downtown residents are required under their leases to park away from Main Street.

Visitors who do not see parking options along Main Street might not look for alternative parking and leave Berlin without stopping, some fear.

According to Councilman Elroy Brittingham, one of the most effective changes the town could make would be to require town employees to park elsewhere.

The parking lot at St. Paul’s Church had been designated as employee parking, but the idea “fell by the wayside,” said acting Administrative Director Mary Bohlen.

The proposal has received the support of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Program, as well as many merchants.

Parking should be limited during store hours on Main Street between Donaway Furniture and Town Center Antiques, the most intensive business area, said Lewis.

Time restrictions have also been suggested for parking on side streets leading from Main Street that incorporate businesses, such as Gay and Pitt streets.

Lewis said she is seeing more and more first-timers in town, and they need to be guided to parking.

That measure was brought up in 2004, said Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing, but nothing ever came of it. Small signs showing the way to parking would work, he felt.

The parking lot behind the buildings on the east side of Main Street needs to be promoted, Williams said.

“That lot is never full,” said Williams. “There is some available parking even at our busiest times.”

The town needs to find a way to inform visitors of the parking time limit without putting up the usual signage, officials said.

Signs could be put on trashcans, Outten suggested, or something less obtrusive than a metal sign on a pole. It was agreed residents and visitors will need to be educated.

“Let’s face it. You’ve got to give some tickets,” Councilwoman Paula Lynch said.

Police would be able to write traffic tickets, a $25 fine, for vehicles that sit for longer than two hours in the designated area.

Town officials said they would like to get the changes set up before the holiday shopping season.

“It’s our duty and responsibility as Mayor and Council to support the downtown businesses,” said Hall.