By Erich Wagner (File photo)
Nearly a month after city council extended parking meter hours to 9 p.m. across the city, the business community is still mixed on the change.
Old Town shop owners and restaurateurs worry the lengthened hours will drive away potential customers unwilling to part with free parking or move their car every two hours, while some in Carlyle said they’re seeing more people make the trek to their neighborhood.
Ellen Klein, owner of children’s bookstore Hooray for Books! on King Street, said that although she hasn’t noticed much of a change yet, she fears she will see fewer residents show up for the fall in-store event season.
“We don’t have that many evening events during the summer, but when fall hits we’ll have authors coming for events in the evening at like 7 o’clock, when normally people could park for free,” Klein said. “That’s where I’m concerned. And unfortunately the building we’re in doesn’t have a public parking lot, so I won’t be able to direct people to some place more convenient.”
Alexandria Chamber of Commerce President John Long said that fear is a common one among Old Town’s businesses.
“There’s certainly been a lot of chatter about it, and folks are somewhat concerned,” Long said. “How do the results of these changes affect their businesses … and they’re concerned about only being able to stay two hours in a particular spot until you have to move your car.
“Folks want to come in, go to dinner, and maybe do some shopping either before or after … so you might have to cut things short. There hasn’t been enough time to really analyze this.”
But restaurateur Mike Anderson, who runs Sweet Fire Donna’s in Carlyle, said the new meter hours, which also include new Saturday enforcement in that neighborhood, has freed up spots for customers. Anderson said that before the extended hours, residents would forgo their apartment complexes’ garages in favor of free on-street parking.
“Now that we have meters on Saturdays, that’s freed up some spots for our customers, and we’ve seen more business through dinnertime,” Anderson said. “Before, our customer base was just Carlyle folks walking over, since after 5 p.m. all the spaces were pretty much taken, but now we’re seeing more folks from Old Town.
“Traditionally it has felt like Carlyle was a gated community, so it’s great to see some Old Town folks now.”
But Anderson understands the concerns of other business owners across the city.
“Every business has different needs and a different kind of parking philosophy,” he said. “But at least in the Carlyle area we’re happy to say it’s working.”