Merchants said they are dealing with the good and the bad of Haverhill’s new paid downtown parking, and trying to decide which is affecting them more.
On one hand, more on-street spaces have opened up for customers, business owners said. On the other hand, drivers appear confused by the rules and there is a feeling that it is unfair to charge people for parking, merchants said.
Dianne Moonoogian, owner of Sweet Things Bakery, said customers aren’t fully comprehending that they are able to park free on the streets before 3 p.m.
“The language is unbelievable,’’ she said of the parking rules. “People don’t understand it. I think it needs to be more consistent.”
“Customers are nervous,” said Steve Dimakis, owner of Mark’s Deli. “There’s just a lot of people who don’t understand how it’s working. The signage isn’t crystal clear. A lot of people just assume if I have to pay to go downtown, I’m just not going to go.’’
The city instituted the paid parking program on Aug. 1. While parking on the street is free most of the day, there is a charge for spaces in lots such as the one next to the Phoenix Row apartments and the lot behind The Tap and Lasting Room restaurants. The cost is 50 cents an hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. So far those lots have not seen much activity.
“They’ve been close to empty,” Moonoogian said.
Parking on downtown streets is free from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., which benefits business that are primarily open during the day like The Clip Joint barber shop owned by Bruce Merrill.
“I don’t have to do anything,” Merrill said. “I’m open 8 to 3 and the parking is free 8 to 3. Life is a gas.”
The city adopted the plan because of fears that if on-street parking was free, drivers would not use the new downtown parking garage, which charges for spaces. The city also plans to use parking fees to raise money for downtown improvements.
Moonoogian said people should not have to pay to park in downtown Haverhill.
“There is nothing downtown businesswise that brings people down here that warrants people to pay 50 cents an hour to park their car,” she said. “I would go to Andover and pay 50 cents per hour to park. There’s a million gift shops and dress shops. There’s all sorts of stuff there. Same with Newburyport. There’s nothing for the people of Haverhill except restaurants.”
Businesses have benefitted from more on-street parking spots being available to their customers. Before the start of paid parking, commuters would park along Washington Street all day and walk to the train station. Now, more spots are being freed up for people who spend a considerable time in the downtown area.
“All of our clients are finding more parking now,” said Erica Kelleher, co-owner of the Le Posh Salon. “If anything, our clients are surprised that they are able to get parking right now. They’re in and out and they seem to like it.”
Dimakis agreed that is the biggest gain.
“That’s just huge,” he said. “They (train commuters) don’t add anything to the city. They were just parking.’’
Business owners have to buy permits to be able to park near their businesses, and local real estate agent Kathy Pare thinks they should be granted free permits.
“I think that business owners who are paying taxes to the city and full-time employees should not have to pay to park,” Pare said. “They are the ones who are bringing money to the city and thus bringing people to the city.”
Time will tell about the long-term implications paid parking will have on these local businesses.
“Business is a little slow, but there are a lot of different factors .... I can’t really determine it one way or the other.” Dimakis said. “But we just have to wait and see and just hang in there in the meantime.”
He noted that business has been a bit slower in the last few weeks, but that it was hard to tell whether it was due to summers generally being slower downtown, nearby construction making it harder to enter downtown, or the new paid parking plan.
“Our customers are loyal and they will find us if they have to pay or not,” he said.