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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    There are empty parking spaces out front as Philip Scontsas works on a window display at Scontsas Jewelers on Main Street in Nashua Thursday, January 19, 2012. Scontsas said his father and grandfather also had to deal with unique downtown parking issues during their time operating the store, which has been in business for 100 years.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Open parking in fron of Alec's Shoes, Main Street in Nashua Thursday, January 19, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Debbie Washington works at Ancient Moon on West Pearl Street in Nashua. She says her Ford Excursion is difficult to park in a downtown parking garage. She parks it in a public lot behind the shop.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Jerry DesRoches at his barbershop on West Pearl Street in Nashua Thursday, January 19, 2012.
Saturday, January 28, 2012

New parking rules in downtown Nashua mean more spaces, less time

NASHUA – Brian Regan heard customers marvel over the sudden profusion of parking spaces.

“It was like winning the lottery,” exuberant customers would tell Regan, a salesman at Alec’s Shoes on Main Street.

“It used to be so hard for us to find a space,” Regan heard customers say.

A half block north on the west side of Main Street, a different merchant turned what he called a big step by the city into 85 smaller steps for his customers.

Some merchants and retail employees, however, see parking fee increases as a step backward.

In recent changes, the city doubled parking fees to $1 an hour at meters on and near Main Street.

It also placed a 90-minute limit on parking in specific spaces and extended hours motorists had to pay to park, now 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Before the change, meters only had to be filled 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Parking fee increases, resisted by some merchants and downtown property owners, were proposed by a committee chaired by Marylou Blaisdell, owner of Design Wares on Main Street. The plan increased fees and pay hours only in prime downtown spots. In other locations, the pay increase was less, or there was no increase at all, and time restrictions were looser.

The intent was twofold: to raise money for downtown improvements and to force a quicker turnover of cars in front of downtown retail shops.

The second goal seems to be working out nicely, several merchants said last week.

Tenants of downtown apartments no longer could park cheaply – or for free on Saturday – in front of their buildings, tying up spaces craved by customers. Likewise, people attending downtown events couldn’t linger in one spot all day.

Among the merchants to notice a difference, and to hear positive comments from customers, was Philip Scontsas, owner of Scontsas Fine Jewelry on Main Street.

“They were pleased to be able to find a space easily and get in and do what they need to do,” Scontsas said.

A collateral effect of the turnover was freeing up the public parking lot behind the S.K. Taxi Co. on High Street.

The lot was typically full before the new regulations took effect in late November. Since then, it became easier to find Main Street spaces and the lot largely emptied out.

High Street runs into Main, near the jewelers. Scontsas said he measured 85 steps from his front door to the lot behind the taxi stand. He sent notices to customers during the holiday shopping season advising them that the lot was open. It they parked there, he would reimburse them the fee, either by discounting sales or giving them quarters for meters.

“People were thrilled,” Scontsas said.

Not all merchants have been thrilled , however. Ken Mermer, owner of Burque Jewelers on West Pearl Street, has been among the outspoken critics since the parking increase was proposed. Mermer worried the increase would drive customers away.

Mermer said Friday that while he understands the reasoning to move things along, he doesn’t see a benefit to customers who park on West Pearl Street.

Instead, customers complain that they’re so worried about getting ticketed, they’re rushing through shopping trips, Mermer said.

“Their mind is on the meter and their car,” Mermer said.

Ninety minutes isn’t enough time for someone to park on West Pearl, grab lunch and visit a couple of stores, he said.

Also, customers to whom he has talked are unhappy about paying to park on Saturdays.

“That’s probably the thing that rubs customers the most,” Mermer said.

Some customers have also found it difficult to obtain cards to put into meters, he said.

The cards can be bought for $5 in a machine outside the city clerk’s office at the Elm Street entrance to City Hall and in the lobby of the Nashua Public Library on Court Street, said Patricia Rogers, the city’s citizen services director.

Some downtown retail workers say they’ve had to bear the burden of the parking increases. The time limit meant employees have to park farther from their workplaces or pay more.

Debbie Washington, who works at the Ancient Moon store on West Pearl Street, said her SUV is too big to park in the two downtown parking garages.

She said she has had to pay to park along a downtown side street. The increase has meant paying an extra $10 a month to park for her work.

“There should be a downtown employees discount,” Washington said. “To me, it’s guaranteed money in the meter (for the city), because I have to park for work.”

On the same street as Ancient Moon and Burque Jewelers, Jerry DesRoches, of Wilfred’s Barber Shop, said the new regulations have made a difference for his customers.

“It’s helped, because we have open spaces (in front) most of the time,” DesRoches said.

Barber Dave Pothier said the turnover is appreciated by his boss’s customers, many of whom are senior citizens. It has been a mild winter so far, but if snow piles up, customers will delay getting haircuts for weeks, Pothier said.

“Without turnover of customers, we’re all dead downtown,” said John Koutsos, owner of Alec’s.

The shoe store has been a downtown institution for decades, but newer niche stores struggle without having that influx of customers, he said.

“Without parking available, you’d never have a healthy downtown,” Koutsos said.

“From my perspective, the availability of spaces for those wishing to conduct business downtown have increased dramatically and it certainly helped Christmas sales,” Koutsos said. “Many all-day parkers have changed their habits due to the new regulations, therefore benefiting businesses.

Koutsos added, “I attribute this 50-50 to the modest price increase of 25 cents in Zone 1 and the shortening of the parking time limit to 90 minutes. These slight adjustments have made it difficult to feed meters and stay longer than the legally allowed time limit.”

Concern about parking downtown is hardly a new phenomenon, Scontsas said.

His family has owned the jewelry store for generations. He remembers his father and even grandfather fretting about parking and accessibility during changes in parking alignment and the construction of sidewalks.

The bottom line: Customers need easy access to stores, Scontsas said.

“When spaces are locked up all day long, it just doesn’t help you in any way,” he said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or pmeighan@nashuatelegraph.com.