Last updated: May 21. 2014 4:41PM - 1953 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Two people walk by the parking lot beside Mayberry Toy Co. in this file photo from last September. The abuse by certain downtown business owners and employees of spaces set aside for customers there is prompting a crackdown to involve violators' vehicles being towed.
Two people walk by the parking lot beside Mayberry Toy Co. in this file photo from last September. The abuse by certain downtown business owners and employees of spaces set aside for customers there is prompting a crackdown to involve violators' vehicles being towed.
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A mini-park isn’t the only addition on the horizon for the corner of North Main and West Oak streets in downtown Mount Airy. A restriction on a parking lot there also has been announced which could lead to towing.

It is aimed at keeping certain downtown business owners and employees from using the lot located beside Mayberry Toy Co,, which the owner of that store says is being limited to its personnel as well as downtown customers in general.

Many people assume that the parking lot, earlier used for employees and customers of a bank there, is a publicly owned facility. But it actually is in private hands, held by an entity known as Main Street Granite which also owns the toy store building.

Under a lease agreement, personnel of Mayberry Toy Co. are allowed to park in the lot, which has space for about 25 vehicles in all, with downtown customers at large permitted to use the remaining spaces. This arrangement has occurred on a voluntary basis, but has been abused — prompting a tough new approach.

“We have been trying very hard over the past 18 months to make the parking lot at 259 N. Main St.(adjacent to Mayberry Toy Co.) available only to customers of downtown Mount Airy,” says a notice recently issued to the downtown community by owners and tenants of that address.

“However, over the last several weeks many employees of Main Street businesses continue to use this lot for their own personal parking,” the notice adds.

The resulting towing enforcement is a regrettable move that is needed because business owners and employments somehow don’t recognize the value keeping the choice spaces open for paying customers, Mayberry Toy Co. owner Paul Stroup said.

“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Stroup said of that unproductive practice. “It’s just taking money out of everybody’s pockets.”

The abuse of the parking lot simply reached the point where the owners/tenants believed something needed to be done. “The tenants of 259 N. Main St. have done their best to politely ask those offenders to allow these spots to be for downtown customers,” the recently issued notice states.

“Sadly, this method has been ineffective. As a result, we will be posting a sign in the parking lot stating that this lot is to be used by the tenants and customers of 259 N. Main St. and that violators will be towed at their expense.”

Stroup said this move is coinciding with the construction of the mini-park, for which ground was broken Monday. It will have benches, landscaping and other amenities offering downtown visitors a pleasant place to take a break, with a gazebo also planned there to accommodate small musical performances.

The Mayberry Toy Co. owner said the mini-park construction will leave most of the parking lot intact. “I think it’s going to take away maybe one or two spaces,” he said, meaning the lot will still be open to abuse

But it is thought that the posted restriction will get results where the voluntary measures have failed.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that — I’m not trying to be the bad guy here,” Stroup said of having to tow offenders’ vehicles. “If downtown merchants didn’t park there, we would not have that issue.”

The toy store owner said the lone exception for the restriction will be a longtime jewelry store owner who has suffered health problems that greatly limit his mobility. “He doesn’t need to be walking great distances,” Stroup said.

However, such leniency won’t be the case for others.

“We can no longer accept employees of Main Street businesses occupying these spaces,” says the notice circulated among business owners who have been asked to share it with their employees.

“We apologize that it has come to this, but our ultimate goal is to help our Main Street businesses grow and unfortunately, with parking being as limited as it is, this action needs to be taken.”

In conjunction with the announcement of the restriction, Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison has reminded the downtown community about the presence of ample parking on side streets and public lots. Included is a new lot on Virginia Street.

Downtown Mount Airy has about 1,900 spaces which city planning officials say are adequate.

Longtime Problem

The issue of business owners/employees abusing parking spaces at the Mayberry Toy Co. lot is part of a larger issue of those individuals also taking up the choice on-street spaces lining the North Main corridor.

This has been a problem for decades and the subject of various discussions among local officials, including during a city government planning retreat held in the winter.

Dean Brown, a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, said at the meeting that his father was a downtown merchant in the 1950s. “And it was a problem then,” he added of abuse of on-street parking.

A perennial set of “offenders” seems to be responsible, according to Gene Rees, a longtime downtown businessman who attended the retreat for a discussion of issues affecting the central business district.

“It’s a very small group of habitual violators,” Rees said. “But they are habitual.”

He said the only solution would be a crackdown by city government, with the setting of time limits on parking one solution suggested.

“The city is the only entity with the enforcement power to make that happen,” Rees pointed out.

However, City Manager Barbara Jones said that the ticketing might also have the unattended consequence of penalizing shoppers and tourists, which would create a bad “public perception” of Mount Airy.

“What kind of flavor does that leave in their mouths when they’ve enjoyed themselves shopping, get back and find there’s a ticket?”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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