Streator’s downtown was sparsely populated with businesses eight years ago, but now the city has grown to the point in which officials are talking about parking issues.
Parking became a topic of conversation during a committee of the whole meeting last week, following a request for a 10-minute spot from a new business owner. The City Council plans to discuss parking at a future meeting.
Don’s Furniture owners Bill and Cheri Schmitt said the Monday closures of nearby businesses on the 300 block of East Main Street turned Mondays into their busiest day, because it's easier to finding parking near their business.
“If it’s convenient, people are going to find a way to do it,” Cheri said. “We need to find a way for things to be convenient for everyone on the block.”
Cheri said she's had customers drive around the block three times before they could park.
Don’s Furniture, 311 E. Main St., has been a staple on the 300 block through the good and the bad; Cheri remembers when the block was just their business, VanDuzer Jewelers, Thrifty Drugs, Toppings Pizzeria and Steve’s Bakery. Thrifty Drugs has since closed.
The Main Street Market with More on Main and other shops, Urban Soak Shoppe, H&H Mercantile, Bromley & Brown Boutique and the Our Town building have since opened and added traffic to the block.
“Honestly, this is a good thing that we’ve gotten so busy that parking is limited,” said Carrie Hrasch, owner of Urban Soak Shoppe, 306 E. Main St. “It still needs to be addressed, though.”
Hrasch said she remembers her grandmother being a meter maid in the days downtown had parking meters.
“She’d given my mom a ticket a few times,” Hrasch said. “It was her car (Hrasch’s grandmother’s) and she’d make my mom pay the ticket and tell her, ‘You shouldn’t have been parking there.’ ”
The city eliminated the three-hour parking limit downtown years ago and meters even longer ago.
The council agreed during its Jan. 14 committee of the whole meeting that metered parking will remain a thing of the past, because it restricts who can shop downtown.
Multiple Main Street business owners said there’s also an issue of tenants from upstairs apartments parking on the block and leaving their cars in front of the stores during business hours.
The City Council said during its Jan. 14 meeting one solution may be to add one 10-minute parking spot per block.
Hrasch and Jennifer Spillett, the owner of Stella Maris Shoppe, share the former location of Thrifty Drugs. Spillett was one of the organizers of the downtown business owners meeting Monday.
Spillett pointed out another issue with parking downtown that has gone unmentioned so far: The last spot on each end of the 300 block is meant to be reserved for handicapped drivers, but after any snow, snowplows pile all the snow on top of those spots.
“With these bump outs on the end of the block, the snow just piles up there,” Spillett said. “These are older people and they have no way to get to a sidewalk if there’s a giant pile of snow there.”
City Councilwoman Tara Bedei said when the downtown development plan was created in 2014, the focus was getting businesses into the downtown; there was a team dedicated to parking, but the can got kicked down the line.
“We’re at the point now where it is a problem,” Bedei said during the Jan. 14 meeting. “Some businesses have owners and employees that park and work all day but others don’t. We need to look at downtown parking.”
City Councilman Ed Brozak said the council still needs to look further into the situation, because there are some stores that could benefit from 10-minute parking spots, as suggested by Streator Liquors owner Patrick Seaman during the meeting. The council agreed to designate a 10-minute spot for a one-month period after the business' grand opening.
“It’s great to have this problem, but general parking isn’t quite the problem yet,” Brozak said. “There’s still plenty of parking on side streets. Most have parking places always available.”
The downtown streetscape project, part of the downtown development plan, was created so people would park in one spot and spend the rest of the day downtown. Brozak said that, as it currently stands, people want to park in front of the store they’re going to, rather than walk through the district.
“People are just so used to being able to pull up to the store to shop and they head right in,” Brozak said. “Now with all the new stores and what’s going on downtown, it’s a much better atmosphere and you can't park where you want to park — and just have to get used to that.”
Brozak said they’ll need to explore adding a parking lot as traffic grows, which will come if more businesses continue to open.
Plans for future parking ordinances will be discussed at a future City Council meeting, and Hrasch said many of the ideas will have to go through the Streator Action and Revitalization Team, known as START, which meets the first Wednesday of every month at City Hall.