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Some downtown merchants see parking, delivery problems

Posted: October 15, 2010 9:36 p.m.
Updated: October 18, 2010 5:00 a.m.
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Melissa Goodale of Goodale Jewelers stands outside her shop Thursday, happy none of the cars on DeKalb Street belong to employees of neighboring businesses. Goodale said there have been problems with customers finding places to park, especially since the Town Green project started a week ago, moving spaces to a temporary lot on Market Street.

Looking out her display window while creating a paper maché snowman, Melissa Goodale has seen something that was a nuisance turn into what she says is a real problem.

For years, said Goodale, who works with her parents at F.D. Goodale Jeweler on DeKalb Street, owners, managers and employees of other businesses have been parking in spaces that ought to be reserved for customers.

Now, she said, the problem is being exacerbated because of the limited parking created by the transformation of the East Back Lot into Camden’s new Town Green.

“I’m happy about the Town Green. I think it’s wonderful,” said Goodale, who feels it is a sign the city is being proactive. “It’s going to be a six-month headache that will give us 20-plus years of maintenance-free green area. But I’ve noticed more than I normally do, people who work in these buildings parking where customers need to.”

Goodale said she has taken it upon herself to ask her fellow businessmen and women to keep those spaces clear. Some have agreed and moved -- most to a temporary lot the city has set up on Market Street -- others, Goodale said, have told her to mind her own business.

“It’s not good for anyone to park in spaces for customers, especially as we come up on Christmas. Someone’s already told me they couldn’t come in because they couldn’t find a parking space. One lady from Hartsville said she drove around the block eight times and almost left until someone pulled out,” said Goodale.

Checking with her father, Goodale noted there are 17 empty storefronts in the area.

“And we still have a parking problem,” she said. “It’s simple courtesy and we all have to walk the same distance. If employees keep parking in spaces for customers, it’s really going to hurt us. I’m really worried. The economy is really affecting people now. It’s affecting me. We want people coming here, not going to Sandhills Village (in Richland County).”

Goodale is doing her part, walking the 2 1/2 miles to work from her house for two reasons.

“First, I bring my dogs here and, second, it’s one less car here,” she said.

For the most part, Goodale said, her fellow business people are parking where they’re supposed to.

“Everybody’s walking; everybody’s fine except for a few parking in front. This is Business 101,” said Goodale.

Goodale admits there are some entrepreneurs who have no choice but to park out front.

Suzanne Duval, who runs the neighboring Avon store, is one of them.

“I do park in front myself, because I have no back door,” said Duval, “but it’s only for a short time while I’m loading and unloading boxes.”

Duval, as did Goodale, noted that some of their customers are older, people who need those DeKalb or Broad Street spaces for easy access into shops.

“To me, it’s basically biting their noses to spite their faces,” Duval said of other employees who could choose not to park out front.

Part of the reason some business people may be parking in what would otherwise be customer spaces is because there is such little parking available in what will be the Town Green. The temporary Market Street lot is just a little further away than some merchants are used to. City contractors blocked off approximately three-quarters of the lot Thursday, leaving an “alley” from the Rutledge Street entrance to the rear doors of some of the DeKalb Street businesses.

That also limits where delivery trucks can go to drop off merchandise.

“Some deliveries are still being made to back doors,” said Goodale. “The Town Green is being done in stages. I just hope they will plan better for Christmas. But our deliveries haven’t been affected too much because they’re only here for 30 seconds.”

Camden House of Pizza’s Georgia Patoulas said city officials have told her trucks delivering to her store may double park on Broad Street during the reconstruction.

“They’re also looking into creating a loading/unloading zone,” Patoulas said.

Duval noted there is still some parking in what was the East Back Lot and that the Camden Police Department (CPD) has offered to escort her to the temporary Market Street lot after dark if she calls.

She wondered, though, whether the parking deck behind 1111 Broad St. was a private or public parking area.

“It’s closer,” she noted.

Camden Downtown Manager Wade Luther said that lot, however, is for the private use of employees and clients of the businesses in that building.

Chester Cannon, who runs the Menagerie on Broad Street, said deliveries will be a small problem for him at first, but could turn into a bigger one later, once the remaining portion of the Town Green is constructed.

“It’s a small problem if I just have to have a small piece of furniture picked up,” Cannon said. “Otherwise, the only way I could do it would be out front if no one parked there. A large truck -- you can’t do that now.”

Cannon said while he is appreciative of the “alley” contractors have created, he thinks it could have been handled a little better.

“If they had left it where we could come off Rutledge, stay behind the building and then go around to Market Street, they could have still done 90 percent of the lot that way.

“In the long run, it’s probably going to be advantageous to us, but, in the meantime, if my vendors go out of business they will run us out of downtown. The question for us is whether we can survive, whether I can keep people in here renting,” said Cannon.

Luther said, however, that some merchants may not understand how the Town Green’s construction will be phased. He said the “alley” will remain in place -- therefore providing its current access -- for the duration of Phase I, which won’t be completed until late March 2011.

“The orange ‘fence’ is the city property line. Except for a sliver in the middle of the ‘alley’ behind The Venue the city owns, everything in the ‘alley’ is privately owned,” said Luther.

He said Phase II, which would encompass those privately owned spaces, would only be addressed after the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year in July 2011, only if money is available, Camden City Council approves that phase and the city obtains easements from merchants to do the work.

Luther said he hopes merchants will want to grant the easements when they compare their areas to the completed Town Green.

“There will be 7-inch concrete, which is stronger, and improved parking,” he said.

Luther did say there will be a two-week period, late in Phase I, when the Rutledge Street entrance will be shut down while that driveway is improved. Even then, he said, merchants and customers will still have full access to their rear entrances on that side of the lot.

“At that point, we will open the Market Street entrance and form an ‘L’ where they will come in from there and then go left to get to those businesses,” said Luther.

He said that can’t happen now for safety reasons because the contractor is staging construction materials there.

Still, while supporting the Town Green project itself, Cannon said the city didn’t really consult merchants.

“They didn’t ask us anything, they didn’t ask us for an opinion; they just decided to do it. If we had input, we could have come up with a compromise. Instead, there was just one meeting,” said Cannon.

Luther said merchants were made aware of -- and continue to be updated on -- the construction plans. He said they and the public can follow the project at http://camdentowngreen.blogspot.com/.

“I worked with the construction crews and engineers behind the scenes for quite some time and then we presented information to the merchants based on analysis of construction and transportation needs,” said Luther. “It’s not that merchant input isn’t good, but if you get input from 30 different people, you’re not going to get a common solution.”

Luther said he spoke to merchants individually about their needs and has tried to be as responsive as possible.

“I believe I’ve done a good job to cater to their needs -- deliveries, loading and unloading, parking and trash pickup,” said Luther. “Both the city and merchants need to realize that compromises have to be made and that everyone has to shoulder the burden of responsibility.”

Luther said the three businesses he believes are being the most affected are Old Armory Steakhouse, Substation II and Kimbrell’s furniture store. He said Kimbrell’s has a unique situation where their warehouse is on the second floor, utilizing an elevator at the rear of the store. Substation II, he said, is being accommodated by keeping a portion of a driveway next to the shop open.

“When that’s shut down, (they’ll) be given cones to block off parking spaces for deliveries,” said Luther.

Old Armory, he said, is seeing construction effects on three sides: front, side and rear.

“Right now, we’re putting in a new, larger sewer line right through the Town Green. The original line goes right under one of the buildings near the restaurant, but we don’t think that’s safe,” Luther said. “So, we’re rerouting it around Old Armory to Rutledge Street.”

Luther said the new sewer line will be a “huge benefit” to downtown merchants, especially those fronting Rutledge Street which floods during heavy rainfall. He also confirmed that Old Armory started offering valet parking service Friday night.

These first three weeks, said Luther, while the line is being installed, is the part with the “most headaches.” Once the line is installed, he said, crews will work in different quadrants of the lot. That may or may not, however, mean that portions of the lot will reopen, Luther said.

“It’ll depend on how things go,” he said.

As for the parking enforcement issues Goodale and others brought up, Luther said the city is actually taking that seriously despite the fact curbside parking is public.

“The two-hour limit will be enforced,” said Luther. “I have spoken with CPD Lt. Mike Stone about stepping up the presence downtown because, essentially, we don’t want to see business owners and employees taking up space from customers. We don’t want to have people parking there all day. At the same time, we realize this is a difficult time. We’re not going to be parking Nazis.”

Back at the jewelry store, Goodale was working on that paper maché snowman in the window front. Looking outside, she realized that none of the cars parked on DeKalb Street were “offenders.”

Smiling, she said that’s a rarity, that there’s usually at least one car that ought not to be there.

“It would be nice if the town had an incentive to do a one-less car program,” Goodale said.

She suggested the city could come up with some sort of reward for businesses where they can document all their employees have car-pooled, walked to work or some other combination of parking space saving measure.

In the meantime, Goodale said she’s willing to do whatever she can to help those customers who can’t get to her front door.

“If you call from down the street, I will meet you on the street if you can’t park out front. I think anyone would do that,” she said. “I’m willing to do curb-side service if we have to.”

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