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Authority to provide parking relief for retail

Following a request from city business leaders Wednesday, the city parking authority expanded free parking hours for First Fridays and the holidays.

To facilitate an accelerated and shortened holiday season, metered parking will not be enforced beyond 3 p.m., from Thanksgiving to Christmas this year. Additionally, First Fridays, which have always been a year-round tradition, will hold to the same rule.

Jule Hanford and Beth Armanda, treasurer and president of the Williamsport Business Association, respectfully, said they wanted to see what WPA could do to “bring some goodwill downtown for all of our businesses and all of our customers.”

Though the city restaurants tend to do well, retail stores are still struggling, said Hanford, who is a partial owner of Patinaz.

“It’s tough,” she said. “I always say we’re teetering on top of the fence and we are working for every dollar that we get.”

From Hanford’s experience, she said some visiting customers receive a $10 ticket from the authority and never return.

“We have to offer something to our customers,

something for the holiday season — other cities do,” she said. “We’re asking for the sky… we want as much as we can, but you obviously have to manage your business, too.”

Armanda cited the parking authority’s chief concern, that of downtown business employees abusing the free parking.

“I don’t want to make all of them pay because of these people that are abusing their privileges,” she said. “We do get to talk to a lot of the businesses downtown and we can definitely put a lot of pressure on them to put pressure on their employees to park where they’re supposed to park.”

Dr. Anthony Cipolla, parking authority chairman, said he was reluctant to agree.

“We have government employees, we have service employees, restaurant employee … As soon as they find out that the street parking is free, they are out playing musical cars and switching from meter to meter,” he said.

This congests the city, disallowing the natural flow of available parking spaces and effectively making it harder for customers for any business to find a spot, he said.

“That’s the problem with free parking — if you make it free, then it gets abused,” said Cipolla. “We’re not in the business to make money, we’re in the business to provide parking.”

Though no formal motion was put forward, the parking authority was in agreement that more assertive action will be taken to notify the businesses of the parking abusers they employ.

Parking is not enforced on Saturdays, thus allowing for Small Business Saturday, and the parking authority will continue to discuss free parking on Dec. 13, Spirit Week weekend.

In other business, the removal of old parking meter poles began Tuesday.

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