Shoppers in Prince Albert’s downtown area will have to start paying for parking again when retail stores re-open on Tuesday.
Bylaw officers stopped issuing parking tickets at expired meters and timed residential parking zones back on March 27. Mayor Greg Dionne said they’re going to end that practice on May 19 after too many people took advantage of the gesture.
He’s hearing complaints from business owners that some cars sat in those stalls 24-hours a day. He’s worried that will drive customers away from downtown Prince Albert, and hurt the proprietors who operate there.
“I’m disappointed that we have to take this action so quickly,” Dionne said on Friday. “I would have liked to (keep free parking) until June 1, but these businesses that are reopening on Tuesday have already taken a financial hit, and we need to encourage people to shop local. L-O-C-A-L. Shop local. We’re going to help the merchants and free up the parking downtown so the customers that they do get can get to their stores.”
Dionne said it barely took a week before he started hearing complaints that some residents were abusing the City’s no-ticket policy. He’s concerned that too many downtown businesses won’t survive the pandemic, and failing to provide their customers with parking will make it even hard for them to stay open.
He’s sad to hear about downtown business owners like Gail Carlson selling their stores, and said if the City doesn’t move quickly, they may loose more of them.
“That saddens me,” he said. “There was a local artist that was filling a niche in the market. She had a beautiful store and she had lots of great ideas and studios, and was getting more local artists’ work up for sale. She had quite a variety in her store, and COVID-19 come along and she can’t financially recover.”
“These local people who have their shops and boutiques, I believe they deserve our loyalty,” he added. “They have shown loyalty to us by participating in our community, and so I believe we should give our loyalty and respect back to them.”
The biggest parking problems are in the 1300 block of Central Avenue. The area houses pharmacies and medical clinics, and Prince Albert Downtown Business Improvement District executive director Carolyn Carleton said seniors are having trouble accessing those services because they can’t park nearby. That’s not the only part of Central Avenue with parking problems either.
“People have to work together on this,” she said. “We want to keep bringing people downtown, but if there’s no place to park, to go and visit some of the shops and to do their business or their appointments, then that’s going to become an issue.”
Despite those concerns, Carleton doesn’t want the City to completely abandon its no-ticketing policy. Ideally, she’d like to see drivers receive one hour of free parking, after which they have to move or plug the meter. However, she also acknowledges there need to be changes.
“Due to inconsideration from other people, we’re going to have to start addressing some of these issues,” she said. “It’s something that we’re working on. I’m trying to negotiate in there so we can maybe still offer some free parking, for half-an-hour or an hour.”
Carleton said they hope to move back to regular metered parking in the future, since the PADBID reserve fund comes from parking meter fees. Those funds pay for improvements in the downtown, like façade grants which allow business owners to repair and restore their buildings. PADBID awarded 12 such grants on Thursday alone.
Although Dionne is concerned residents won’t support local business, Carleton remains optimistic shoppers will return. She said many residents realize now how important those businesses are to the community, and she expects plenty of support when they re-open on Tuesday.
“All the store owners are really excited about opening up again. I know a lot of them have been doing renovations within their own stores while they’ve had the down time, so I’m excited to get out and walk around and visit with them all again,” she said. “I think more people are looking to support local.”
Carleton said many shoppers are tired of standing in line to enter large box stores, and want to shop in places that are more relaxed and less crowded.
Clothing stores, shoe stores, florists, book sellers, farmer’s markets, thrift stores and music, electronic and entertainment stores are just some of the retail businesses allowed to re-open on Tuesday. Change rooms and washrooms can also re-open with increased cleaning.
On May 2, the government changed its reopen plan to include shopping malls. The Gateway Mall in Prince Albert will open at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, although not all stores will be open. Shoppers must still adhere to strict social distancing guidelines.