Ten different people spoke at a public hearing Thursday night at the Mount Airy Municipal Building, but all had the same basic message: don’t mess with downtown deliveries.
They mainly were merchants and other business owners downtown, but the speakers also included a truck driver who would be directly affected by a recent proposal from the city board of commissioners to place limitations on deliveries.
“Our job is hard enough,” said Eric Stevens, a driver for U.S. Foods, a company in South Carolina.
Concerns have emerged about whether the municipality should continue to allow large trucks to park in travel lanes of North Main Street while loading or unloading various items, from restaurant supplies to sewing machines. Safety issues have been raised in addition to inconveniences posed to other downtown motorists having to dodge trucks parked in the street.
However, addressing the problem by restricting deliveries to early mornings and late afternoons or requiring trucks to be parked in off-street lots might only make things worse for all concerned, board members heard during Thursday’s public hearing. Those are among various proposals offered, in addition to establishing special loading zones, but the time restriction seemed to draw the biggest protest.
Stevens, the truck driver, said requiring deliveries to occur either before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. would pose a hardship to him and others.
“That is very hard when you got 15 to 16 stops,” he said of a schedule that can include trips to other cities in addition to Mount Airy. Stevens added that when he and fellow drivers heard about the proposed restriction, it made them “very nervous.”
Those who get the deliveries were equally adamant about not implementing changes some say would allow a relatively minor problem to explode into major repercussions for a key sector of Mount Airy’s economy.
“We depend on these trucks,” said Vickie Riekehof of Leon’s Burger Express, a downtown fixture for more than 20 years. “If we stop these deliveries, it’s really going to make it a big problem for a lot of us.”
That sentiment was shared by Don Schrader, longtime operator of Creative Sewing Machines, who pointed to logistical considerations involved.
“We have deliveries of heavy and bulky sewing machine cabinets,” Schrader said of this business, adding that they must be inspected before being received. If items are damaged, they are not accepted by the store.
“No truck driver is going to lug that type of item…back up the street to put back on the truck,” Schrader said of requiring truck parking in remote lots.
Amy Heath, co-owner of a downtown retail business that also is involved in production, said it depends on flexible delivery schedules to meet its deadlines. “We rely on these UPS trucks and FedEx trucks,” she said.
“You simply have not thought this thing through,” Schrader told city officials. Noting that there has been concern for the safety of jaywalkers who might not be visible to oncoming traffic if stepping into the street from the front of a parked truck, he said, “Let Barney give them tickets.”
The allegation that other motorists are inconvenienced by the trucks parked temporarily in the street was addressed by Sandy Gwyn of the Pages bookstore. Their drivers try to park in such a way as to not block others in marked spaces.
Yet when this does occur from time to time, the problems “can be fixed rather quickly,” Gwyn said. “These delivery people are willing to do whatever they have to do.”
Two speakers who aren’t businessmen but travel frequently through the downtown area, John Collins and Paul Eich, said any inconveniences to motorists from parked trucks are minor.
“I’m inconvenienced maybe 10 seconds, 30 seconds — at most a minute,” Collins said.
“It works very well,” Eich said of the present arrangement. “I don’t think we need these changes.”
Good “Problem” To Have
Other hearing speakers focused on the idea that excess truck deliveries are a positive sign for a business district.
“Every town should have this problem,” said Brandt Scholz, another downtown merchant, who said it indicates that products are being sold and requiring more to be ordered and shipped.
Bob White, owner of the Pandowdy’s restaurant for more than 22 years, concurred, saying that when he first opened his business the downtown area was suffering.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” White said of the delivery issues, “but we should count our blessings that downtown Mount Airy is doing what it is today.”
Also speaking was Gene Rees, a longtime downtown businessman associated with various properties there including the F. Rees clothing store, who said the issue involving deliveries is part of a larger concern.
“I do think we as merchants recognize we do have parking problems,” Rees said. He cited the additional issues of merchants and employees parking in on-street spaces as well as lack of handicapped accessibility.
Rees said the delivery matter could serve as a springboard to address the entire situation.
“It should open up an opportunity for the city and downtown to look at some of these problems,” he said.
That spirit of cooperation seemed evident at the end of Thursday night’s public hearing when the commissioners expressed appreciation for the orderly manner in which citizens had expressed their opinions.
No action was taken regarding any restrictions, with board members including Dean Brown, Jon Cawley and Steve Yokeley saying they needed time to weigh all the input. The issue will be discussed at their next meeting on Nov. 1.
“Why we’re up here is to help Mount Airy the best way we can,” said Commissioner Scott Graham, who initially raised the idea of delivery restrictions. Graham tried Thursday to allay any concerns that this was a move to hamper business operations.
“We’re not up here to stop progress at all. We’re not here to hinder anything,” Graham added.
“We just want to keep the big trucks from blocking the street.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.