If there's one thing Connie Kincaid, director of Hickory Downtown Development Association, hears plenty about, it's parking.
Though business might not be brisk in the downtown area during these tough economic conditions, parking can still be at a premium at times.
“Every person has some comment about parking,” Kincaid said, “either good or bad.”
So it didn't surprise her when downtown hair salon owners asked the city to do away with parking restrictions. Led by Forte Hair Salon & Gifts owner David Shuford, the owners submitted a petition with the names of more than 400 customers.
Shuford said many of his customers get more than one service per visit and can spend more than two hours in the salon. Some of them, therefore, get parking tickets because they parked in spaces with two-hour limits.
“That doesn't leave people with a good feeling for the downtown,” said Shuford, who has operated his salon on Union Square for 13 years. He said the problem makes it hard for him to keep stylists because of customer complaints about parking tickets. “It's kept my business from growing.”
City staff are researching the issue and looking for a compromise, said Andrea Surratt, assistant city manager. She said she doubts the city would completely do away with parking limits because employees of downtown businesses could more easily take up spaces where customers could have parked.
Surratt plans to discuss the issue with the HDDA board at its Nov. 18 meeting. The HDDA, which represents about a third of downtown business and property owners, plans to take the issue to its membership in December.
Based on their research and feedback from the organization, city staff will make a recommendation to City Council, which would have to approve any parking limit changes.
The Union Square area near Forte has 132 parking spaces, while the downtown overall has about 2,000.
Shuford said he'd be satisfied if the city increased limits to three hours because that would prevent his customers from accruing fines.
He said some city changes to downtown parking, such as authorizing use of the parking lot next to the old train depot for a farmers market, have only worsened conditions. He said that squeezes downtown parking during the market season.
He also wondered why the city never followed through on discussions years ago of adding a second downtown parking deck.
Surratt said city officials haven't discussed the parking deck idea recently and that if the city did consider building one, it would likely have to be a public/private venture because of the tight economy.
Kincaid said she believes prime spots next to Union Square businesses need limits, but that she doesn't speak for HDDA's board. She believes the most important problem facing downtown relates to parking, but not the problem Shuford wants to address.
“If you go look out in the parking lot on Union Square, we have the biggest parking problem we've had in the two years I've been here, and that's that there are too many vacant spaces. We need customers.”