Two sides of coin on parking meters

Merchants say parking
tickets will drive
customers out of town

Staff Writer

Two sides of coin
on parking meters
Merchants say parking
tickets will drive
customers out of town
Staff Writer

GLORIA STRAVELLI Tom Fishkin (l) and Bill Meyer are worlds apart on the issue of whether parking meters are good for businesses.GLORIA STRAVELLI Tom Fishkin (l) and Bill Meyer are worlds apart on the issue of whether parking meters are good for businesses.

RED BANK — They’re the point/counterpoint, the yin and yang, of the debate over how parking meters are impacting businesses in downtown Red Bank.

"People need to understand that the meters are short term to create turnover so people that work here don’t just leave their cars there all day," explained Tom Fishkin, who thinks the parking meters installed on downtown streets are good for business.

"I’m not opposed to meters because I’ve seen the elimination of that problem. What the community needs is information about the meters, what their purpose is aside from revenues for the borough," said Fishkin, owner of Readie’s Fine Foods on Monmouth Street.

"A customer came in yesterday asking, ‘Is it good for business?’ I explained to her that it creates turnover so she can come in. She parked nearby; in the past she wouldn’t have been able to," Fishkin said.

"I think he’s dead wrong on the meter issue," Red Bank attorney William Meyer said. "He’s entitled to his opinion, but I think they expect to gain something far more than just annoying their customers and I don’t know what it is. If they think that making it more difficult for people to park is going to induce people to shop here, they must have some other expectations."

Meyer said he collected close to 1,000 signatures on a petition aimed at blocking installation of the meters and lobbied the Borough Council unsuccessfully to reconsider installing meters on streets in the downtown area where parking had previously been limited to two hours, but was free.

"Underlying what they’re thinking is that some day this will turn into a parking garage," he said. "But what is the cost to somebody who stops in for 10 minutes to get something to eat and gets fined with a $34 ticket and ends up with a $60 lunch and says in the future, ‘It’s too big a hassle I think I’ll go somewhere else.’

"We’re going in a very negative direction as far as difficulty to get in and out of Red Bank, traffic flow, quality-of-life issues," Meyer added.

"It’s actually helping us a little," countered David Levine, owner of the Monmouth Street salon bearing his name. "What I see is that it’s creating a little more turnover on the street as far as shoppers go, and they seem to be getting used to it. At this point my main concern is people that work in town are parking on the street and feeding the meters all day long. They don’t want to put their hand in their pocket and buy a permit [$600 annually]. But we still do need a garage, even with the meters."

"Tom is a wonderful person and a good businessman and David has always thought there’s some magic bullet that’s going to solve the parking issue," Meyer said in response to Fishkin and Levine. "The meters are not turning over. They’re not making any difference at all because there’s so much parking available right now in Red Bank. And nothing’s going to prevent people from continuing to feed the meters.

"There’s going to be a cost. You can count on a percentage of lost customers because of the inconvenience, because of the expense and annoyance involved in getting tickets," Meyer predicted.

What to do now that the meters are already installed?

"I want to see them torn out. Take them out," Meyer demanded. "I have a great idea. Put them on the street Ed McKenna lives on and in front of the law office he has on Broad Street and a whole bunch of them in the parking lot at his office. Then double the amount on those meters so he can actually generate even more money.

"I’m not trying to be funny," he said.

Shop owners had differing perspectives on how the meters would affect business. Some think shoppers will be less inclined to browse, while others see no lasting impact from the meters.

"I think it will impact people doing leisurely shopping," said Cindy Ciullo, owner of Backward Glances vintage store on Broad Street. "I’ve had people say, ‘We’d better get going before the meter expires,’ which I think is going to be a problem. But I’m not hearing, ‘I’m never coming to Red Bank again.’ "

Like many others, Joseph Cerasa, proprietor of Caesar’s Creations on Broad Street, is spending a lot of time making change for customers in need of quarters to feed the meters.

"People are coming in for quarters. It’s a real pain," said the jewelry store owner who petitioned the Borough Council to reconsider installing the meters, also without success.

The meters and stepped up enforcement, Cerasa said, will ultimately discourage people from coming to town.

"People won’t come to Red Bank. If they have a choice, they’ll go to mall instead," Cerasa said.

"Fifty cents or a dollar is really nothing to shop," rebutted Vance Valente, owner of Quicksilver on White Street. "Think about it, it’s 50 cents. In the long run, when people see the whole picture, it’s going to be great for Red Bank; eventually we will end up getting a garage."

According to parking manager Neil Burnip, shoppers got a grace period during which there was no enforcement of meter time limits.

"We gave everyone three weeks to get accustomed to the idea of meters," he said. "No summonses were issued in that time, merely gentle warnings."

The kinder, gentler approach ended last week when parking officers began to enforce the two-hour time limit on meters, which is in effect six days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

And ticket writing is state-of-the-art now that parking officers are armed with hand-held computers that print out laminated parking tickets and transmit the data to borough hall and a central computer bank in Trenton.

"They came online last week," said Burnip of the computers, which were provided free by the state.

Retailers in English Plaza, which already had a metered lot, said enforcement there has been anything but gentle.

"We see that people in the plaza have gotten tickets, and I think $34 is rather expensive for a five-minute mistake," said Bob Koehler, owner of In Between Café in English Plaza.

"I understand it’s important to turn cars over. I don’t know what the answer is," said Koehler, who posted a reminder for customers on the door of the café. "It bothers all of us, to see someone sitting in here and they turn around and are getting a ticket and the meal’s ruined."

"People are fed up with the parking," added Peg McCulloch, who has written the mayor and council and the parking manager about incidents of overzealous enforcement she’s witnessed in the parking lot.

"We’re a retail town and we’re extremely unfriendly to our customers," said McCulloch, the proprietor of McCulloch Sampler. "It’s not just the meters, it’s an attitude. How we are treating our visitors to Red Bank concerns me a great deal. We’re chasing them away." McCulloch added that shopkeepers are trying to compensate by stocking quarters, even paying tickets for customers.

"Horrendous" is how George Pappa, manager at Monmouth Music, summed up the effect of the parking meters on Monmouth Street.

"I put money in the meters for people," admitted Pappa, who said the scene on Monmouth Street is dismal by early morning.

"Every shop on this street opens at 10 a.m.," he noted. "I looked up the street this morning at 10 a.m. and four of the eight cars parked here had tickets on them."