In an effort to provide a spark to the town’s struggling business community, Tisbury selectmen on Tuesday unanimously voted to extend the parking limits on Main Street from one to two hours. The change is intended to provide people more time to shop or have a meal in the downtown area this summer.
The change will affect the 43 parking spots on Main Street stretching from the intersection of State Road to Le Grenier restaurant at the end of the business district. The time allowed for parking would expand to two hours seven days a week with no exceptions.
The Tisbury Business Association (TBA) recommended the change. Almost all of the business owners who attended a public hearing Tuesday spoke in favor of extending the parking limits.
“The past two years have not been very good, in fact 2009 and 2010 have been the worse I have ever seen,” said Michael Fontes, owner of 66 Main Street, which houses Rainy Day gift shop and several other businesses.
“I don’t know what we can do to make Main Street and the Island more business-friendly, but anything that can encourage business, or be a help to business, I would like to see it done,” he added.
Nili Goldstein, a member of the TBA and assistant general manager of the Mansion House, said the one-hour parking limits are hurting business, and customers frequently complain that they feel rushed to do their shopping and get back to their cars.
“A number of clients and customers have come to us and complained that after they leave Bunch of Grapes and go to Rainy Day and then have lunch at Zephrus, they come back and have a ticket on their car,” she said.
“A number of studies we have looked at have shown the more time they spend in town, the more likely they are to spend money in town . . . while parking is obviously not the only thing that is going to encourage commerce, it is a step in the right direction.”
Kim Hilliard, co-owner of Church & Main Natural Therapies, said many of her customers don’t have enough time for a standard one-hour massage.
“Generally my clients come in for an hour, they arrive 10 to 15 minutes early, they relax then leave about ten minutes later, [the session], if they come out to find a ticket [on their car], they don’t come back. So I am very much in favor of two-hour parking,” she said.
Selectmen also agreed with the TBA’s recommendation that a small number of spots, probably five or six, be changed to short-term parking near Bob’s Pizza, Leslie’s Pharmacy, and the Bagel Authority to allow people to make a quick stop to pick up food or a prescription.
“As much as pushing the one-hour to two-hour, it’s also very important to allow some change for pick-up and drop-offs,” said Heather Kochin, vice-president of the TBA and owner of the Rainy Day gift shop.
Ms. Kochin said there is support in the community for increasing parking limits as well as creating new short-term drop and pick off areas. In just one week the TBA gathered 221 signatures on a petition in support of the changes, including 97 people from Vineyard Haven, she said.
The conversation then shifted toward other parking related matters, such as the ongoing issue of local employees parking on Main Street.
Ms. Goldstein said the TBA would explore the idea of creating a fund to encourage employees to use the Park and Ride lot off State Road. But she also said it was up to business owners to tell their workers not to park on Main Street, and urged selectmen to keep the focus on customer parking.
“I ask that our customers remain the issue. They are the ones we are trying to please, they are the ones who we would like to walk around our shops or sit down for lunch or a massage or workout at the health club,” Ms. Goldstein said.
Peter Simon, owner of the Simon Gallery on Main Street, said he supported expanding the parking limits, but asked selectmen to try and find additional parking areas in the downtown area. He said he supported an earlier suggestion made by gallery owner Nancy Shaw Cramer that the Tisbury School be used for overflow parking in the summer.
“I am in favor of the two hours as a business owner . . . but that will just make parking more precious on Main Street for someone coming in who won’t be able to find anything because people aren’t incentivized to move out and make way.”
He added, “I think the two-hour parking should be contingent on making the Tisbury School parking lot more a piece of this puzzle.”
When Chairman Geoghan Coogan asked if anybody was opposed to the change, only one person spoke up. “I am concerned you aren’t going to get enough turnover down there with people taking too long . . . I am thinking business owners will get fewer people in their stores,” said Joe Tierney, owner of the Tierney Construction Company and a member of the Tisbury fire department.
Mr. Israel said he supported extending the parking limits, but said he shared many of Mr. Tierney’s concerns. “I think we may be playing roulette here . . . I wonder if increasing it you are going to hurt yourselves, or we are going to hurt business,” he said.
“Having said that . . . I feel like I would support this based on the activism of the community and not really hearing any resistance. But I think there is a risk here. I think you risk people getting frustrating and saying: the heck with Vineyard Haven,” he said.
Selectman Jeff Kristal also said he supported the change, but said the town should step up the enforcement of parking limits.
“I had a couple of friends the last few weeks who have been going off-Island, some of them daily, and they parked on Main Street and none of them received a ticket . . . I think enforcement goes a long way,” he said.
Selectmen unanimously agreed to extend the parking limits and asked police chief Dan Hanavan and town administrator John Bugbee to work on a plan showing the exact location of the new short-term parking spots.
Before the vote, Mr. Coogan offered a final thought.
“I think with this you do take a risk, but we are supporting what you are bringing to us. You are the business community, and you have been hurting for a couple of years. We are not hearing a lot of negativity, but if this doesn’t help, or if it hurts things, come back to us,” Mr. Coogan said.