For tattoo artist Matthew Waitkus, it doesn’t matter if he’s in the middle of putting fresh ink on a customer’s arm or piercing an ear; when two hours are up, he has no choice but to go outside and move his car to avoid being ticketed.
Waitkus, who co-owns the Storrs Center tattoo parlor Pandora’s Playground, said overzealous enforcement by LAZ Parking is hurting his business.
“It’s impractical. It’s discerning. It pushes customers [away],” Waitkus said.
Alongside Pandora’s Playground, the owners of Kathmandu Kitchen, Husky Pizza and the former manager of Tang Karaoke & BBQ all said excessive ticketing by LAZ Parking and a lack of available spaces is hurting Storrs Center, joining a growing chorus of businesses dissatisfied with the area’s management.
Mansfield Mayor Paul Shapiro said he recognized the importance of the issue and expressed the need for it to be addressed.
“This is a long-term problem, and it needs to be looked at holistically and there needs to be a long-term solution,” Shapiro said.
Husky Pizza owner Ahmet Akkus said he sees customers leave earlier than they want to in order to avoid getting a ticket.
“If they want to come for a couple [of] hours, then, like, they’re not comfortable,” Akkus said. “Basically they cannot stay for more than a couple [of] hours. [They have] to leave and move their car, otherwise they’ll be ticketed.”
Pandora’s Playground co-owner Miguel Lopez echoed this concern.
“People don’t want to come here because of parking alone,” Lopez said.
Currently, all of the parking spaces within Storrs Center have either a 30-minute, one-hour or two-hour limit. While the garage offers two hours of free parking, some businesses said it deters elderly customers from visiting.
“Some customers are older, they don’t want to walk,” Kathmandu Kitchen owner Bharat Neupane said. “It’s slippery.”
Parking spaces on Dog Lane, Royce Circle, Bolton Road Extension, the southern part of Wilbur Cross Way and the north side of Storrs Commons on Storrs Road are 30-minute parking. Parking on Storrs Road north of the Bolton Road Extension, spaces on Storrs Road nearer Price Chopper and Mansfield Town Hall and the northern portion of Wilbur Cross Road are all one-hour parking. The Dog Lane parking lot behind Husky Pizza is the only two-hour surface lot in Storrs Center.
Shapiro said the town is considering changing the system to something more like that of a parking meter, but with a modern adjustment.
“If someone wants to leave their car there for half an hour, take out your app and pay for half an hour,” Shapiro said. “If you want to have a long-lingering dinner, you’d pay for more. It would be time-sensitive, price-sensitive based on what consumers want. This is not written in stone. This idea has to be vetted with all the stakeholders.”
Neupane said he’d like to see “suggested parking signs in front of business[es], like ‘parking for Kathmandu Kitchen only.”
Parking problems aside, high rent and taxes are also deterring businesses from staying in Storrs Center for long, owners say. Akkus said he pays $8,500 each month in rent and total town-related expenses. Waitkus described his rent as “uncomfortable.”
“They’re charging city rent prices in a country town,” Waitkus said.
Akkus said his rent, which was originally $2,000 a month, has increased over 400 percent from his original location on Storrs Road. After Storrs Center was built, he was moved to his current location at 9 Dog Lane, where his rent continued to climb.
Cec Amado, former owner of Froyo World, which closed in September 2017, also said the high rent caused him to leave.
“I think a lot of complaints are just because Storrs Center overcharges in rent for the amount of business in the area,” Amado said.
Tenants pay rent to either Wilder Realty or EdR, the two landlords for Storrs Center, according to the Mansfield Downtown Partnership.
Taxes are what caused Love Art Sushi to go out of business in the summer of 2018, Love Art brand co-founder Ronald Liu said.
“Ultimately it’s not just parking, but the extremely high local and state taxes that put a lot of burden on us,” Liu said.
This combination of poor parking, rising rent rates and high taxes causes a great deal of turnover in Storrs Center, Waitkus and Lopez said.
“Look at the trend of businesses that have closed or changed ownership,” Waitkus said.
Akkus, Waitkus and Lopez all said they’ve reached out to the Downtown Partnership, but their complaints went unheard.
“I have tried [to talk with], to be honest with you, this town, sad to say, but they don’t care. They do not care,” Akkus said.
Lopez agreed, saying the town is struggling to work with area businesses.
“I don’t think they planned this properly. They were too focused on financing,” Lopez said. “They’re being a little too greedy now.”
Shapiro, who is a member of the Downtown Partnership, said time and energy needs to be invested going forward to find long-term solutions to the many problems.
“I can’t disagree,” Shapiro said. “The rents are high. Parking. Yes, there needs to be a solution. There is a way to get there.”
Luke Hajdasz is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.