Between restrictive parking rules and lagging reconstruction, some business people on Ninth Street are feeling a pinch and fretting about their prospects for the holiday buying season.
“People just aren’t even bothering to come to Ninth Street anymore,” said Karen Merowchek, a manager at Vaguely Reminiscent, a women’s clothing store. “It’s just too difficult.”
In June, the city imposed a $1 per hour weekday fee for the previously free parking lot on the west side of Ninth Street, and instituted two-hour limits for on-street parking that had had a three-hour limit or no limit.
Later in the summer, work crews began streetscape improvements on the west side, which has blocked much of the on-street parking and, recently, blocked access to the parking lot.
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“It’s pretty bad,” said Michael Bell, owner of the Hunky Dory vinyl and smokeware shop.
And improvement looks like it’s still a ways off, since the streetscape work is running behind schedule.
Sidewalk construction was held up first when excavation uncovered utility lines where they had not been expected, according to Jack Dunn with Chartwell Property Group, a private developer with several projects on the west side of Ninth Street that is managing the streetscape improvements.
That, Dunn told City Council members earlier this month, required a halt for redesign and consultations with Duke Power and the state DOT – Ninth Street between Hillsborough Road and Main Street is part of the state-maintained U.S. 70 Business.
Then, there’s weather.
New curbing on the west side of the street trapped rainwater drainage from several hundred yards away, Dunn said, leaving the ground so sodden it took a week to dry out enough for pouring concrete.
Little of that was communicated to the merchants who saw little or nothing going on across the street and saw sales figures going down. Keeping the merchants up to date was a city responsibility, but while the project website, bit.ly/1wQRFwZ, was reporting the current construction status last week, it did not project a completion date or a date for on-street parking to be available again.
“We understand delays in construction but ... they don’t know the imperative effect it’s having on us,” said Donna Frederick, owner at The Playhouse toy store. “Christmas is coming. We’re fed up.”
Even when access is open, merchants say, the parking lot is little used when the fee is in effect. John Valentine, co-owner of the Regulator Bookshop, said that store has seen “slow weeks and box-office weekends.
“When you can park for free, the parking lot is packed,” Valentine said. “But during the day it’s a ghost town over there.”
At Vaguely Reminiscent, Merowchek said business in September was “down dramatically over the past few years” and she was certain the parking changes and construction were responsible.
Once the sidewalk is finished, the contractor will still have to repave the parking lane, which will take several days and might not be done until well into December, according to what she’s been told, Merowchek said.
“So we’re going to lose parking on the street for one to two days two weeks before Christmas, which is horrible,” she said. “Those two days (represent) thousands of dollars that we could lose because people won’t come here because of the parking.”
Bell said business at Hunky Dory is “still doing well,” but since the parking fee took effect he has seen a falloff from the same months in past years.
“It’s clearly detrimental to us. I’ve spoken to other owners on the street, they’re seeing things drop off,” he said.
Customers, he said, “come up to where they’ve always gone on our street for toys or books or whatever and can’t get a (parking) spot and they move on to the mall.”
Completing the west-side streetscape won’t be the end of disruptions on Ninth Street, either. According to Mike Kneis with the state DOT, U.S. 70 Business, including the Ninth Street segment, is due for resurfacing next year.