ROCKVILLE – Business owners located in and near Town Center vented their frustrations about paid parking to the City Council Monday night, saying the meters along Regal Row and the price of garage parking hurts their business.
Council members responded by considering whether to stop collecting metered fees after 5 p.m. on weekdays and throughout the weekend.
Council member Mark Pierzchala also suggested parking enforcement officers could issue yellow “warning” tickets for overdue parkers who are dining at restaurants, an idea that won plaudits from the business owners in attendance. However, the council did not make any firm policy decisions, such as hiring a consultant who could offer recommendations. That was deferred to a later date.
The parking garage in Town Square is maintained and operated by Federal Realty, a private developer, while the city government controls the prices of on-street parking, which operate Monday through Saturday.
“Why do they have to go from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.? It’s ridiculous,” said Marc Sosin, owner of the Ben and Jerry’s along E. Montgomery Avenue, about the meters.
Bob Daly, owner of the California Tortilla near the Regal Rockville Center Stadium 13 movie theaters, Daly told the council his sales have dropped by about $500,000 since the company opened in 2001 while the cost of rent has doubled and the minimum wage increased too.
He said his business once pulled in $1.45 million in a year but last year only made $950,000 while rent increased from $6,000 per month to $13,000, forcing him to sell what were once $5 burritos at $8 now.
Daly recalled how when the business opened 15 years ago, there were also two free parking lots, which generated plenty of traffic to his restaurant.
Now, there is one paid parking lot and there is street parking that is metered until 10 p.m. most of the week.
Free parking periods, he said, “would be golden.”
“They’re not going to spend $4 parking to get fast service food,” he added.
Sosin, whose business opened in 1998, noted other restaurants in the local area with parking lots are able to succeed despite offering the same level of products and services.
Fixing that will require an overhaul with how the city government and landlords alike work together to find an economically viable solution for everyone, he said.
“There is no magic bullet,” said Sosin. “It’s changing the perception of the Rockville Town Center to make it more of a place where people want to go.”
“We’re competitively disadvantaged,” he later added.
Giuseppe’s Pizza Plus opened 26.5 years ago in the city and relocated to Regal Row 12.5 years ago, according to the restaurant’s owners, Sue Feldman and her son Scott Feldman.
They explained their company’s sales grew year after year until plateauing about four years ago.
While the Feldmans opened a second Giuseppe’s restaurant on Kentlands Boulevard in Gaithersburg, they said there are fixes that could be made to improve their restaurant’s business in Rockville.
That includes providing free parking for carryout orders and a grace period for customers parked along the street.
Scott Feldman said the meters used to expire by 6 p.m. but now run until the restaurant shuts down for the day, Monday through Saturday, with Sunday being the one free day a week.
“Well, we maintained we just want to grow and there’s just no growth spurt there and we’re not getting more people there because of the parking,” said Sue Feldman.
Danny Trehan, the vice president of operations for Mellow Mushroom, opened a pizza place near Dawson’s Market and the Rockville Memorial Library last month because of its location in the center of town.
However, he said he did not take into account how the metered parking along the streets and the price of the garage would affect his business.
“I’ve invested $2.4 million in this restaurant. So I think I made a wrong decision,” he said.
Alice Nappy, executive director of VisArts, said people “don’t want to pay for car parking,” that it’s simply a deterrent to doing business.
However, Council member Mark Pierzchala noted the city’s general fund used to heavily subsidize the city’s parking fund, so eliminating all fees would cost the city revenue.
Both he and Council member Julie Palakovich Carr said they’re open to exploring changes in the parking fee structure.
“I think it’s certainly worth a discussion” said Palakovich Carr, “but it will depend on where the budget numbers fall.”