Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Parking fees killed business: owner

Gallery closing its doors following hike in rates

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JOE Kerr plans on closing his Exchange District store, the largest dedicated photo gallery in Western Canada, because he says parking-meter rates have hammered his business.

The owner of Pixels 2.1 on McDermot Avenue said after 26 months, he's closing his gallery due to a noticeable drop in traffic in his store. In late November, the city increased hourly parking rates from $1 to $2 at 143 pay stations in the Exchange and downtown, including around Kerr's business.

Kerr said he used to get 20 or 30 people coming in per day, but that number dropped to about eight people per day in December.

"The traffic count has been radically lower. December being a prime time of the year, the traffic counts were off by as much as 80 per cent," said Kerr, who said he's "heartbroken" by the gallery's closure but hopes it will reopen somewhere else in Winnipeg. "It's not helping business grow."

He said the parking increases were the "straw that broke the camel's back" in his decision to close his business.

Pixels will be gone by Jan. 15. He said four paid spots in front of his business have gone empty almost all January.

"The rent in the area has been going up and up and up because of the popularity of the area," he said.

"You're working your tail off just to pay rent, you're not making any money, and then on top of it, now the city walks in and increases the parking rates."

The change was meant to open up 15 per cent of parking meters and create room for 90 per cent of motorists to find a spot within three blocks of where they're heading.

The areas with the higher rates are on Portage Avenue between Vaughan and Fort streets, on Kennedy, Edmonton and Carlton streets between Portage and Broadway, and Broadway between Kennedy and Donald streets.

The increases also apply to Arthur and Albert streets, as well as parts of other streets, such as King Street from James to Notre Dame avenues. Winnipeg Parking Authority's Colin Stewart said the change was to foster more turnover.

"What we've anecdotally noticed already in the areas where the rate is higher is that there is more space available... and not far from that, where the rate is lower, there's less space," said Stewart.

He said there were three chances during the consultation over the increases for businesses to provide feedback. "We know that any time there is a change to parking... there will be opposition," said Stewart.

Kerr isn't the only Exchange-area business owner who's unhappy about increased parking rates.

"I think parking around here is difficult as it is, and with the increase, it's a little shocking for people," said Luke Nolan, owner-operator of the Haberdashery on Albert Street.

"Even if they come in for 15 minutes, they gotta spend two bucks. So I guess it does affect business."

John Giavedoni, executive director of Residents of the Exchange District, said he believes the high rates may keep some people away from the area. The increase has had a "negative impact" for residents and customers coming to the Exchange.

"I don't think it's achieved its objective of making more parking meters available for the businesses' customers," said Giavedoni.

Stephanie Scherbain, spokeswoman for the Exchange District BIZ, said the BIZ's executive director has actually received positive feedback from businesses about the change.

The BIZ agreed with the decision to raise the rates, said Scherbain.

Kerr, who has 35 years' experience in the retail industry, said he hasn't given up on his business.

"I won't let it stay down, because it's just greatly needed," he said.

Kari England, owner of Toad Hall Toys, said she finds the parking-rate increases to be an annoyance, but they haven't impacted her business. She said she'd like to see loading zones turned into available parking spaces.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2013 B1

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