On-street parking critical for small businesses survival

Columbus’s Department of Public Service will install about 130 new parking meters along High Street between Goodale Avenue and Mound Street before the end of this year.

It’s a controversial plan, and one that could have a considerable impact on shops and restaurants in the city’s urban core, where the availability of on-street parking can make or break a business.

In an auto-oriented city like Columbus, on-street parking is a necessity for street-level retailing, says Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, which promotes and supports a clean and safe downtown.

“By some estimates, one on-street parking space results in five times as much consumer spending as an off-street parking space,” he says.

On-street parking is especially near and dear to Mark Swanson’s heart, as he owns two Cup o’ Joe/MoJoe Lounge locations that sit on High Street− in the Short North and downtown.

Currently parking on the I-670 Cap (home to his Short North store) is prohibited during the rush hours from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m., and Swanson contends that the restrictions definitely have an impact.

“We are very happy to have the on-street parking throughout the rest of the day and notice the difference,” he says. “Our downtown location in the Lazarus building would also benefit from on-street parking. Downtown is prepared for evacuation at 4 p.m. I want folks to get home in a timely manner, but we should also have a good balance for people that want to hang out downtown.”

Again, it’s not just the customers who suffer. Very few types of retailers can survive downtown without on-street parking, Ricksecker says.

“Large anchor stores, such as department stores, can survive because people will take the time to park in an off-street facility,” he continues. “Virtually nobody will make that effort in order to run into a coffee shop, drugstore, dry cleaner, or other type of convenience store.”

Small, destination businesses, like Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties on Gay Street or Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace on Fourth Street, also require on-street parking to survive because they are not located in a strong enough retail cluster to draw people to a remote parking facility, he says.

Dirty Frank’s Co-Owner Elizabeth Lessner was very aware of that fact, and worked with Ricksecker and the Department of Public Service to get rid of the rush hour restrictions on parking meters on the east side of Fourth.

“We would love to see the west side of meters follow suit, but this was a good start,” she says. “Fourth Street is a four-lane highway. Cars fly off the highway and regularly zip down Fourth at high rates of speed. We wanted to see traffic calming on the street as well as more available parking for our guests. There’s no reason we need four lanes downtown going into the city during rush hour; it was silly.”

Not only does on-street parking help customers and businesses, Lessner says it also puts more eyes on a street, and adds a sense of safety, bustle, and movement.

“There’s a reason that Gay Street has been so successful,” she adds. “It’s got room for bicycles, scooters, cars, pedestrians, and wheelchairs. It’s our city’s first complete street.”

Unsurprisingly, Swanson, Ricksecker, and Lessner are all in favor of the new meters along High.

The decision to introduce on-street parking on High will help leasing efforts, Ricksecker says, adding that one of the few places where parking restrictions may be needed during the morning and evening rush hours is the stretch of High downtown.

“The volume of buses, cars, trucks, and bicycles is such that rush hour parking might lead to gridlock,” he says.

Having lived in Chicago and San Francisco, Lessner points out that both cities are able to manage complete streets, even with trolleys and trains in the transportation mix.

“I’m happy to see Columbus, Ohio leaving the sprawl behind and embracing a truly urban downtown plan,” she says. “If folks want highways, 70, 71, and 315 are great alternates, but our urban center should not be a highway, but a shared space for all types of commuters.”