With five free public parking lots within a relatively short distance of each other, it might not seem like downtown Seymour has a parking issue.
But some downtown business owners see things differently.
Sandi Cockerham, owner of Java Joint coffee shop at 120 N. Chestnut St., has asked the city to change at least one parking space in front of her own business from two-hour to 15-minute parking.
That would better accommodate the majority of her customers who stop by to get a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate to go, she said.
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“I have many customers in the afternoon tell me the next morning they couldn’t stop for a cup of coffee because there was no parking and they need to run in and out, not park three blocks away,” she said.
Cockerham said nearby parking lots, not street-side parking, should be used for people intending on being in a building for more than 30 minutes.
“I watch many cars each day park outside of Java Joint for way over two hours,” she said.
The council’s thoroughfare committee plans to study the issue and make a recommendation on what changes, if any, are needed.
Perception vs. reality
Mayor Craig Luedeman said he’s not completely convinced there is a parking problem downtown.
“I think we sometimes have a perception of a parking problem downtown as opposed to an actual problem,” he said. “We have the idea that people who want to go to a business downtown have to park right in front of it, and sometimes you just can’t do that because downtown is busy.”
He said he doesn’t hear people complain about having to park in the middle of the Walmart parking lot and walk the same distance.
“I want to help the downtown businesses as much as possible, but I also don’t want to hinder what is there, too,” he said.
Councilman Brian D’Arco, small business owner, said he sees where Cockerham is coming from and thinks her request is a good idea.
“But it’s also setting a precedent that any business downtown can then say, ‘Well, I want 15 minutes in front of my business,’” D’Arco said. “If we do this, then we need to come up with some sort of standards for how you can request 15-minute parking.”
He said it would have to be on a case-by-case basis, and if the business should close or move, the parking would revert back to two-hour.
The only downtown location currently with 15-minute parking available is the post office on North Chestnut Street. A dialysis center on Third Street across from the police station also has special parking for dropping off and picking up patients.
Councilman Lloyd Hudson said there are other types of businesses that could merit 15-minute parking, such as Bullwinkles Family Restaurant and Small Town Italian, which both offer carry-out pizza and other fast food.
Josh Parmley, who helps manage Bullwinkles at 107 N. Chestnut St., said the location loses lunchtime business because of lack of available parking.
“I have had several people tell me that they wanted to come here for lunch but decided not to because there wasn’t any parking spots left,” he said. “As a business owner, this poses a problem, I think.”
As a customer, Heather Lewis of Seymour said she expects the downtown to be busy at lunchtime and doesn’t mind having to park in a parking lot within a short walking distance.
But she also doesn’t think there is enough business downtown to warrant a lot of problems.
“If we could keep more businesses open downtown, we might have more complaints,” she said.
Hudson said the downtown health clinic on Chestnut Street may want special parking for their patients or Bevers Family Pharmacy on Second Street for customers stopping to pick up prescriptions.
“People want to come in quickly and leave. Those businesses would probably say, ‘Well, if they can do that for their business, we need to do that for ours,’” Hudson said.
If all such parking requests were granted, however, there wouldn’t be enough spaces available for people wanting to come downtown to park, shop and walk around for any length of time, he added.
Council President Jim Rebber said he, too, understands Cockerham’s request but isn’t sure the city has the means to regularly enforce 15-minute parking.
Currently, Seymour Police Department has a parking clerk who works during regular business hours on weekdays, if weather permits, to monitor downtown parking and issue tickets to those who violate the two-hour parking currently in place.
The fine is $3 if the ticket is paid that day and $5 if paid after the day it is issued. The amount is not enough for people to mind paying it for the privilege of parking right in front of their business, said Bret Daugherty, owner of 13th Floor Music Store at 111 N. Chestnut St.
Daugherty said the main reason it’s difficult to find a parking spot downtown during the day is people are too lazy to walk a little farther or feel they are entitled to park there.
“Business owners, as well as people living downtown, should not park on the streets in front of their buildings,” he said. “Making customers, sometimes my customers, walk farther doesn’t make much sense.”
The city could discourage people from parking downtown too long by increasing the penalty, monitoring downtown parking more regularly or installing parking meters, Daugherty said.
If the downtown is to grow and attract more businesses, then it may be time to do things differently, councilman Dave Earley said.
“We need to be a little flexible or at least consider some of these newer ideas,” he said. “It may seem like a small enticement, but it may be an opportunity for businesses to consider downtown as a location.”
But he didn’t think the city should allow for more than a couple of 15-minute parking spots per block.
Councilman John Reinhart agreed it was an issue worth looking into.
“If we want the downtown to grow and prosper and change, then we are going to have to adapt,” he said. “I think it’s something we need to do. We just have to figure out how to do it.”
Look to the future
Andy Luedeman, who works at Employment Plus and Seymour CrossFit, both in the downtown, said parking isn’t a problem yet, but he expects it will be as new businesses open.
“As the downtown area continues to expand and become more popular, it will become one quickly,” he said.
He said the biggest issue for people using the parking lots during the day is that they often are filled by people who work downtown.
And people coming from out of town don’t know where the parking lots are, he added.
Mary Reed of Seymour said sometimes people need to park downtown at a business for more than two hours.
“I find the two-hour parking to be a problem,” she said. “I go into Revel Salon for a pedicure and to get my hair done, and it takes longer than the two-hour limit.”
Another Seymour resident, Jeanine Baxter, said she doesn’t have any problems with people who live in downtown apartments parking near their front doors.
“I feel that if you live downtown, then you should be privy to parking near your home,” she said. “But as far as business owners who park on the street but don’t live there, then that’s wrong.”
Kevin Greene, owner of Artistic Impressions frame shop at 127 W. Second St., said it doesn’t matter whether the problem is real or perceived — it’s still a problem.
“I have customers from time to time complain because they couldn’t find a close parking spot,” he said. “If customers complain, then no matter what anyone else says, it is a problem for my shop.”
He said he agrees with Daugherty that too many business owners and people who work downtown park on the streets all day, every day, taking up customers’ parking places.
“For the life of me, I can’t understand how they can do that and not feel bad,” he said. “That is a spot that one of their customers cannot use.”