Meadville Tribune

Local News

August 27, 2013

New program repays patrons for parking

MEADVILLE — Feeding meters is taking on a whole new meaning in the City of Meadville starting today with the debut of the “This Store is a Meter Feeder” program.

The brainchild of downtown businessman Tom Collard, the program offers one hour of free parking to downtown shoppers in exchange for following what he describes as three simple steps:

- Put a quarter in a parking meter.

- Make a purchase in a store displaying a “Meter Feeder” poster.

- Receive a quarter reimbursement.

The program is in effect Monday through Fridays during the city’s 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. meter enforcement hours. During other hours — nights, holidays and weekends — parking is free and time is unlimited at city meters and reserved spaces.

Collard, owner of Tom’s Train Terminal in @thebank on Park Avenue just south of Chestnut Street, had attended the recent organizational meeting of Downtown Meadville Business Association at The Creative Crust on Chestnut Street.

“It was a good meeting,” he recalled. “On my way back home, I thought about how before we ask the city to do something about the parking issue, as independent businesses with an interest in downtown, we should do something ourselves.”

In business since the end of 2009, Collard has heard it all when it comes to parking.

“There are two things people object to,” he said. “The first is not being able to find a space close to where they want to be — even though they’ll walk for miles to get what they want at a mall or big box store. The second is having to pay to park.”

Every once in awhile over the years, he’s given someone shopping in his store a quarter for the meter, Collard said. Then the idea occurred to him: put a quarter into the meter, walk into a store, make a purchase — and get your quarter back.

The next thing he knew, he’d come up with the name “meter feeder.” A collaboration with John Beers of Healthful Harvest LLC, a fellow tenant in @thebank, resulted in posters advertising the program that will be going on display in participating store windows.

As of Tuesday, there are 21 participating businesses and more are calling to sign up daily, Collard said.

Collard is quick to admit that a number of customers have urged him to move his store to Vernon Township. However, it’s not a change he’s interested in making.

“I like being in a downtown,” he said. “Rents are affordable — and I can walk to work or take the CATA (Crawford Area Transit Authority) bus when the weather’s bad.”

He would, however, like Meadville to be able to attract a lot more specialty shops like his.

“The whole of retailing has changed,” Collard said. “You can’t have department stores downtown anymore because of the big box stores — but you can have specialty stores downtown that sell things the big box stores don’t.”

Jeanne Kasbee, owner of Travel Experience Inc. on Chestnut Street, has a slightly different perspective on the parking situation, but she’s delighted to be participating in the program.

People aren’t usually running in and out of her place making quick purchases, but they often are keeping track of the time, according to Kasbee.

“People are very jittery if they’ve put a quarter in a meter and maybe they’ve stopped at another storefront and they’re worried about running out of time,” she explained. “If someone is constantly looking at their watch, we’ll give them another quarter to put into the meter.” The point for her is, as she put it, to take pressure off the travel experience. “They don’t have to purchase something,” she said. “Our situation is different — an inquiry or a potential sale is well worth a quarter to us.”

So is building a solid base of downtown shoppers.

“I just encourage people to not be afraid to shop downtown,” she said. “If they’re in a store that won’t give them a quarter, come on in and we’ll give them one. There’s no problem with that.”

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