By Mary Spicer
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.”
“I think that the businesses are being pro-active and working toward solutions to the ongoing issues with parking,” Meadville Mayor Christopher Soff said Monday. “I commend them for thinking different solutions to try to make it as accommodating as possible for everyone.”
Council members Nancy Mangilo-Bittner and Bob Langley, who comprise Meadville City Council’s parking subcommittee, agree. The subcommittee was formed in response to a plea from Viki Allin, co-owner of The Creative Crust, to do something about a shortage of customer parking in the downtown business district.
“I think it’s fabulous,” Mangilo-Bittner said Monday. “That’s the kind of stuff we’re looking for — for people to come up with creative ideas to help downtown merchants. I think it’s wonderful.”
“This is a great idea,” Langley said. “It’s good to see businesses working together to promote people to make purchases and come downtown. It would be wonderful to see more people working together like this.”
You can get involved
Downtown businesses interested in participating in the “This Store is a Meter Feeder” program should contact Tom Collard at 853-2942.
Meadville City Council has been receiving regular reports from its parking subcommittee and the city manager on the ongoing effort to encourage employees of downtown businesses to not occupy metered spaces that could be used by customers. The next regularly-scheduled council study session is Sept. 4 at 4 p.m. in the City Building on Diamond Park. The public is welcome to attend.
The following is a list of downtown Meadville stores currently participating in the “This Store is a Meter Feeder” program:
Boyko’s Graphics, Chateau Christine, Diann Frampton Art, Emperor’s Place, Healthful Harvest, Heeter’s Haven, Hovis Interiors, JCB Woodscript, Jeron Diamond Jewelers, Loeffler’s Flower Shop, Meadville Fine Arts, Nancy’s Under The Steps, Ocean’s Cafe, Off Color Gallery, Sacred Journey Vessels, Sandy’s Artworks, Tattered Corners Book Store, Techbox, Tom’s Train Terminal, Travel Experience, Yarn Vault
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.