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Northampton upholds status quo, will issue parking tickets on Black Friday

Four business owners attended the commission’s meeting hoping to convince the 12-member board to waive parking enforcement for what some consider the start of the holiday shopping season.

They also asked for similar policies to be put in place for Christmas eve and New Year’s eve, though the commission took no action regarding those days. The panel will likely take the issue up again at its December meeting.

“I feel that we are inviting people into town to have a great time, to do some shopping, to eat at our restaurants ... so it seems like such a small request to have no parking on those three days,” said Cathy Cross, who owns a woman’s clothing store that bears her name at 151 Main St.

Cross and other business owners understand that the city can’t go back to past policies of allowing 10 days of free parking leading up to Christmas, but they argued in favor of giving shoppers a parking break on the shopping days requested.

“There is nothing worse than turning somebody truly off on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve,” said Judith Fine, who owns Gazebo at 14 Center St. Administering tickets would be slap in the face to both customers and business owners, Fine said.

Mayor David J. Narkewicz pointed out Friday that the city has never had a policy of free parking the day after Thanksgiving.

“That was never a designated day, that I’m aware of, where we waived parking,” he said.

That said, he clarified what was an informal policy under the previous administration in which tickets were not handed out on Black Friday because city offices were closed and ticket givers were not working that day.

Narkewicz said the parking enforcement system is more than revenue collection. Enforcement officers plays a key role in ensuring turnover and making sure people follow other parking rules, such as in handicapped zones, at crosswalks, or in front of fire hydrants.

In the end, the commission voted 8-2 to keep the status quo, with those in the majority arguing that turnover prompted by parking enforcement is more important to business than free parking.

Others argued giving away parking hasn’t worked in the past because employees and residents occupy the spots for long periods of time.

“I think that it’s actually detrimental to businesses to have free parking,” said Richard Cooper, a member of the commission who owns State Street Fruit Store downtown. “What they really need is turnover.”

Fine said that position “doesn’t hold water,” noting that business owners discourage employees from parking in prime downtown spaces.

Cooper and others also said the city should not give away sources of revenue given how tight the city’s budget has been in recent years. He argues that downtown is unique enough that people will be willing to fork over 25 cents to a $1 to shop, just like they did last weekend at the annual Bay Day event.

Two other business owners at the meeting disagreed. Nancy Cowen, who owns Happy Valley at 229 Main St., and Nancy Donato, who owns J. Rich Clothing for Men at 153 Main St., both said issuing tickets on the three days in question is not right.

“It’s really unfriendly,” Donato said.

Cowen agreed. Like other business owners, she urged the commission to pay special attention to Christmas eve and New Year’s eve, which are typically busier downtown than on Black Friday.

“To give them a parking ticket after an hour seems like cruel and inhumane treatment,” Cowen told the commission.

Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene A. Tacy and Ward 3 City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels, the chair and vice chair of the commission, agreed with the business owners and voted in the minority.

“I was trying to take out the bad experience element of the downtown shopping experience,” Tacy said.

The city at one time offered free parking in designated long-term lots for 10 days leading up to the holiday season, though that parking did not include the meters and parking garage. That policy was discontinued a few years ago.

Fine said the city many years ago went even further, offering free holiday parking that included meters on the street but not the garage. She said Tuesday’s ruling is an example of continuing removal of one of the few perks businesses can offer to customers.

Fine expressed disappointment Friday that the commission would not grant what she considers a small gesture.

“The city of Northampton loves to hold its downtown up as a gem, but the commission’s decision doesn’t make that statement,” she said.

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