|Pam Berberich: Little choice but to move.|
For Pam Berberich, it finally came down to parking. There were other issues, but as more and more customers circled the block looking for a space, came in angry holding pink parking tickets, mentioned the dread they had at showing up at a pleasant place to do pleasant things, it was obvious the move was coming.
Pam owns Glazed Bisque-It, a happy little business where mostly mothers and children decorate white ceramic pieces with their own creations. During the summer, the building on Campbell Ave., in the heart of Roanoke City Market, sings with children's eagerness. At other times, women hang out in clusters talking and creating. It's the kind of business Pam, a chemist and former academic and drug representative, dreamed out before she bought in four years ago. Glazed Bisque-It had been in operation for 10 years by then and she simply took over and kept the mojo in place.
But recently there has been a problem with the roof, a problem with a lease, a problem with the cost of rent and, finally, that parking situation which has grown to the point of the unbearable the past few months with massive construction projects coalescing to create a worst-case scenario for the businesses. Pam will not be the first to escape the din. Several others have moved or closed.
There's noise and dust to deal with, but mostly it's the almost personal nature of parking that has had most of the impact.
This is a problem Roanoke and other cities have faced forever, but it seems so much more intense these days in downtown Roanoke. I got a parking ticket the other day for parking on the wrong side of one of those confusing signs. The streets are cluttered with fences, trucks, orange cones and yellow tape. Merchants will swear half the parking has evaporated, though it is substantially less than that. The confusion and congestion are obvious.
Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill says, "A parking system designed to meet resident, worker, shopper, and visitor needs is critical to a successful downtown. Part of it is dealing with reality (we need parking that is convenient and affordable) and part is dealing with perception (if I can't park directly in front of where I am going and stay there as long as I want, there is a parking problem).
"Beginning this month we've consolidated all parking operations under one department so we can better manage it as a system. Previously, parking enforcement, parking garages, and parking violation collections were in separate departments. By consolidating, we can better coordinate, plan, and communicate downtown parking."
Pam says she has "absolutely" lost customers because of parking. "My target is mothers with children," she says, and the moms don't want to spend half a day looking for a parking space. "I like the city and I love being where I am," she says, "but this is not conducive to business. If you're navigating the streets holding a small child's hand and pushing a stroller ... We try to be family-oriented, but the parking problem doesn't help."
Pam would love to see "parking meters back on the street." There's something stable and predictable about meters, she says, even though many resist paying for parking. Fact is, you pay one way or you pay another.
I don't know what the solution is, but somebody needs to find one quickly. I think we all understand that the construction downtown will create a better space eventually, but if everybody's gone before it's finished, what's been gained?
More from Chris Morrill:
We have a cross-departmental task force focusing on parking system improvements. Here are some of the tasks they are undertaking. Trying to increase the number of on street parking spaces by reviewing every loading zone and no parking zone to see if we can add spaces. Just yesterday we walked several blocks of Campbell and Salem, identifying the potential for up to 20 additional spaces.
"While we have plenty of capacity in our garages, we know that most people find it more convenient to park on the street. The task force is reviewing the parking time zones to be sure that they meet the current customer demands on that block. For example, there may be a block with 15 minute time zones because the previous use was a bank where people just needed to run in and deposit a check, etc. The bank may now be replaced with a sit down restaurant so a 1 hour time zone may be more appropriate. We'll do this review block by block (with input from the merchants) to align the time zones with the uses and customer needs. We also believe this efforts will allow us to consolidate some time zones and reduce the number of signs downtown -- easing the visual clutter.
"The task force is working on the public education, marketing and perception issue. We really don't have a parking supply problem. I've attached a visual of downtown that blacks out all the public and private parking garages and lots. You can see that a major portion of downtown is already dedicated to parking. We are looking for effective ways to get information out about the many parking options downtown--including private lots. We are partnering with DRI on these efforts. You may have noticed that new banner on Market Street promoting free parking the garages on weekends. DRI also has new parking information on its Web site.