When Kim Cash first opened a second location of her clothing store in Storrs Center, she saw around 200 customers per day. Three years later, there are days when she has no more than 10.
Cash’s store, Bliss, opened its Storrs location in December 2015. Cash had a following and a positive reputation from her first location in Willimantic, and business was great — until, she said, the street parking limits in Storrs Center were changed from two hours to 30 minutes.
According to Cash, LAZ Parking — which handles the parking in Storrs Center — started “ticketing like crazy.” Though there is a garage in Storrs Center where customers can park for free for two hours, Cash claimed that does not alleviate the problem.
“I cannot tell you how many times my customers try to park and they tell me there’s no spaces,” Cash said. “The elderly don’t want to go to the garage, so I’ve pretty much lost that demographic.”
Marc Alderucci, the owner of Storrs Center’s Grille 86, also said the center’s 30-minute parking limit and LAZ’s ticketing has caused his restaurant to lose business.
“There’s been a minimum of 50-60 people that have said, ‘I don’t go here to watch a game because I don’t feel like moving my car three times to watch one football game,’” Alderucci said. “And not everyone is comfortable with a garage, especially when you start talking about an older demographic.”
In the last few years, several businesses in Storrs Center have closed their doors. FroYo world and Sweet Emotions left in September 2017. Toasted and Tang Karaoke & BBQ also closed within the last year. Now, Gansett Wraps is up for sale, according to BizBuySell.com. Perhaps most notably, Amazon@Storrs shut its doors in January.
“That was the last straw, when Amazon bailed,” Cash said. “There’s a quote out there that says, ‘If Amazon can’t make it, then nobody can.’”
Cash and Alderucci blame those closures primarily on the ticketing, which Alderucci referred to as a “$30 never-come-back pass.”
“(Customers are) not coming back,” Alderucci said. “They can go to Manchester, they can go towards the mall area, Willimantic, and park for free and not have these issues, so there’s no reason for them to come here.”
Steve Smith and Brian Jessurun, co-owners of Storrs Center’s Dog Lane Cafe, echoed Alderucci’s comments, saying many people have told them they would not return to Dog Lane because of the tickets they received while eating.
“A woman came in, she was telling me she came in from Manchester on a recommendation from a friend,” Smith said. “Everything was great. The service was great, the food was great, she loved the vibe of the place. She said, ‘we can’t wait to come back.’ She walks out to her car, and then five minutes later she comes back and holds a piece of paper (up to) my face (and says), ‘We are never coming back.’”
Dog Lane has been open for over six years, Smith said, and their business did not start dropping until the street parking time limit changed two years ago.
“Our counts are off 8,000 customers from three years ago. It might be more than that, it might be 10,000 from our peak in 2015,” Smith said. “And that also coincides with when LAZ began assaulting cars with tickets.”
LAZ parking tickets in Storrs Center are normally $30, according to a June 2018 LAZ financial report. From July 2017 to June 2018, the company made $635,103.81 total across monthly parking, parking violations and transient parking (non-monthly garage users) in Mansfield, the report said. Violations accounted for $47,385.05 of the profit. It showed $331,642.39 in operating expenses, putting LAZ’s net income from July 2017 to June 2018 at $303,461.42.
LAZ could not be reached for comment.
“These numbers are obscene,” Jessurun said. “As a business owner, let’s say we do a million dollars in sales, we’re lucky to get five cents at the end of the day on a dollar. They’re getting almost 50 cents per every dollar worth of revenue.”
Mansfield Mayor Paul Shapiro said he was aware of what he called the “overzealous enforcement” of parking time limits during off-hours and said he thought the town had resolved that issue.
“I understand that overzealous enforcement, particularly in the evenings, on weekends, on certain weekend days and certainly during the summer, is something that can be addressed,” Shapiro said. “I thought we had addressed that, because that is a bit of an old complaint. There is an ongoing dialogue with the partnership and LAZ as to how we can make parking less of an obstacle.”
Smith said this “enforcement when there is none needed” has hurt his business more than anything else.
“For example, Saturday morning in the summer, any time in the summer really, any time during spring break or winter break, that’s when our business depends on locals to come here and support us,” Smith said. “Without them, we don’t make it, nobody makes it. And yet, that’s when LAZ has chosen to enforce, foolishly, I believe, without regard for the businesses.”
Ultimately, Jessurun said, he’s unhappy that his business is hurting due to forces out of his control.
“There’s no place to park, the parking garage is full, you get a ticket, what’s the motivation?” Jessurun said. “You’ll go somewhere else, you have plenty of choices around here. You don’t have to come here. It’s frustrating when you do a great job, and everything seems like it’s going well, and then you get sabotaged by this.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that LAZ Parking made $635,103.81 in parking violations - which was in fact the total revenue. This has been corrected for the actual parking violation revenue.
Gabriella DeBenedictis is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.