March 22, 2017 · OPINION
30 years later, Old Town still needs a parking deck
File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Main Street has 56 parking spaces between Alexandria Pike and Fifth Street.
By Duane Thompson
Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This could be said about Warrenton’s central business district — Main Street and the streets crossing it.
I owned and operated Rhodes Drug Store on Main Street for 30 years (1976-2005). I witnessed many changes in the town through the years.
We are now at a crossroads and our future depends on our actions. It is the “best of times” for Old Town, especially Main Street, as we have the fewest empty buildings in many years. We have seen growth through new businesses, such as Local 35, The Bike Stop, Sherri’s Stuff, Deja Brew and several dance studios.
Business is booming and this is fabulous. I counted more than 60 businesses and professionals on Main Street from Fifth Street to Alexandria Pike. We also have gained new businesses on Third and Fifth streets. The town is alive, a great place to visit and shop.
Now comes “the worst of times.” There are only 56 parking spaces on Main Street from Fifth Street to Alexandria Pike. This means that each business or professional service does not have even one parking space for potential customers or clients. This low amount of parking will very much affect the long term of tenants in the central business district.
Businesses, especially retailers, must have customers or they will not survive. At a time when empty storefronts have been filled and activity has increased downtown, we must address the problem of ample parking.
I go downtown to get my mail every day and, as I travel Main Street, I never see more than two or three empty parking spaces. At the same time, I see 10 to 15 cars travelling the street. I know some of those cars are just passing through, but those who want to support the businesses are unable to find parking.
For more than 30 years, I have spoken in favor of a parking deck behind the post office, with the top level being all-day spaces for Old Town business owners and employees. In 1976, when I first spoke about this issue, we had three hardware stores, two pharmacies, two furniture stores, a bakery, a shoe store, a ladies’ dress shop, a travel agency and variety stores, like Dollar General and Kress. All of these are gone, and this brought about many empty stores.
Now, those empty shops have been filled. If successful, they will bring even more business to the central business district. However, if we ignore this pressing parking problem, they will end up closing due to lack of income.
If the Town of Warrenton wants to keep a thriving downtown, it must act now. I own my building at 77 and 79 Main St., where I have purposefully required that tenants be retail. If the town neglects this problem, Warrenton officials are telling me that they are not supportive of retail business in Old Town. If that is the case, I will rent my building to anyone willing to pay the rent.
Recently, at meeting about Warrenton’s comprehensive plan, many views were expressed, suggesting such development as the Reston Town Center and other areas in large cities trying to develop space that seems safe and quaint. Near the end of the discussion, someone remarked that it seems they are trying to build what we already have in Warrenton. This is a special place that I decided to call home back in 1972, and I think it now has more opportunity to blossom than it has for many years. We must not let this pass us by.
I feel that some of the parking problem could be eliminated immediately by sending a notice to all businesses and professionals in Old Town that owners and employees will be ticketed if they choose to park on the street. I told employees that while I wrote their weekly paychecks, the money came from the customers who dealt at our store. It is vital that parking is available.
Recently, we lost four more parking spaces. I was told by a town council member that this was necessary for the fire department and pedestrian crossings. I disagree, because pedestrians need to put their cell phones down and look when crossing. Also, the fire department needs access to the fire hydrants, but not to the tune of 1-1/2 parking spaces. Four lost spaces is almost 10 percent of the total on Main Street.
Just by implementing a couple measures, more parking spaces would be open and give the time to construct a parking deck.
I recently told a town councilman that if I still had a Main Street pharmacy, I would move. My business required daily traffic of 60 to 80 people, and with less than one space allotted for me, it would be impossible.
Warrenton businesses need the town’s help.
Tell It Like It Is · April 10, 2017 at 12:52 pm
Only 3 problems with parking uptown:
1. Peeps can't drive. At any one part of any one day between John Marshall Street and 5th street, and between E.Lee st. and Horner St., a 3rd grader could likely count 15-25 vehicle's that are "not parked in the box" in Old Town.
2. Some privileged folks think they can park however they please or don’t pay attention or simply don’t care. Main street employees and business owners need to park off main street if they want parking for their customer base. Most recent poor parking “out of box” example I saw was late last week. I noticed a lady with a silver SUV, pull up in front of the post office, and get out after parking nearly smack in the middle of two parking spaces. (I believe she may have been an atty in town that used to be with the commonwealth atty's office, but I won't mention any names)
3. No enforcement from the Town PD for people that can't park within the required space.
BJ · March 23, 2017 at 4:47 pm
Completely agree. Time to spend some money where it needs to be spent, not on dog parks, museums, and surveys. I used to stop once a week in Old Town but due to the lack of parking, I just drive through to the other side of town. Only out of absolute necessity do I stop at the Post Office, and it takes 3 to 4 trips around the block to find parking anywhere near it.
rcliftonc · March 23, 2017 at 12:02 pm
I completely agree Old Town needs more parking. We moved to Warrenton a little less than two years ago and in those two years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people in or around Old Town. With the number of new developments being built (i.e. Raymond Farms, Brookside, etc.), the existing parking problem will only get worse!
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