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October 23, 2012

Pilot program targets Main Street meters

Are the parking meters on Main Street good for business, or do they detract from it?

Robert Heidt, the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive officer, says that meters keep traffic moving and turnover in the parking spaces in front of Main Street shops, and that means potentially more people shopping inside.

“(Business owners) want to have that constant turnover because that impacts cash register sales, which is what drives the business,” Heidt said.

But that could change, at least temporarily, and starting in January.

The City Council holds a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m in the City Hall auditorium on whether to allow free parking on Main Street for a three month trial period from January 1, 2013, to March 31, 2013. If the council votes to make that change, Main street would have free, two-hour parking from Spring Street to Washington street.

City Councilor Bruce Tobey proposed the three-month trial, changing his initial and often filed request to eliminate the parking meters on Main Street permanently. He filed that earlier this year. He said the trial will see if removing the parking meters works, and proved a boost to local businesses in the off-season.

“When businesses seem to need the most help is with the slow months, and it benefits people who live here as opposed to tourists who visit here,” Tobey said.

His proposal, he added, would bring much needed traffic back to Main Street. While the additional traffic will help, Heidt said he’s concerned the spaces won’t be as enforced as metered parking spaces. Without enforcement, he said, the free parking will lock up the street in front of the shops.

The chamber, he said, used to do similar kinds of free parking events during the holidays. From what he’s heard, Heidt said, they didn’t go over that well. In a period of slower sales, any drop in turnover could cause problems for businesses.

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