Gillett grapples with Main Street growing pains

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Burgeoning downtown means fewer available parking spaces

Warren Bluhm,

Vehicles line the 100 block of Main Street in Gillett on Saturday morning, April 6. A recent decision to start enforcing the long-standing two-hour parking limit raised a public outcry. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

UPDATE: At the Monday meeting referenced in this story, the Gillett Health, Protection and Licensing Committee voted to approve parking passes that Main Street businesses may issue to clients and customers who likely will park for more than two hours. Also, a letter will be sent to landlords whose tenants habitually park on the street.

CORRECTION: Rennae Ryan works for Dr. Steven Drake, O.D., at Family Vision Care, which is located next to OJ's Midtown Restaurant. The name and location of the clinic were incorrect in the original version of this article. We apologize for the errors.
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Gillett city officials got a big surprise when they started to more stringently enforce the two-hour parking limit on Main Street.

The city council chambers at the Gillett Municipal Building were packed Thursday afternoon when Mayor James Beaton and the council hosted a public hearing on the parking problem. And residents were planning to be back Monday afternoon (April 8) to hear what the council’s Health, Protection and License Committee was going to do about it.

Several business owners approached Beaton in mid-March about enforcing the limit. With storefronts filling up in recent years, it’s become harder to find a spot in the 100 and 200 blocks during busy hours — especially around mealtimes, Fridays and Saturdays.

“There simply aren’t enough spots on the busy days for everybody,” Beaton said.

But once warnings started appearing on windshields, a public outcry began, leading to Thursday’s hearing.

Betty Krueger said two hours is not enough time for customers of her Cutting Edge hair salon on Main Street.

“I have a parking lot, but a lot of my customers park down the street,” she said. “I cannot do a perm in two hours; I cannot do a color in two hours. … I just think you’re chasing customers out of our city.”

One of Krueger’s recent customers wanted to use the laundromat but she had already spent three hours at the salon and was afraid of getting a ticket, she said.

Rennae Ryan, an optician and optical lab tech at Dr. Steven Drake's Family Vision Care, said their clients often come from out of town with family members to combine appointments, so they’ll have exams that take more than two hours. Then they might go next door for a meal at OJ’s Midtown Restaurant while the effects of their dilated eyes wear off.

But she added her problem is not with the ordinance as much as how the stepped-up enforcement was handled.

“It wasn’t enforced in a long time, and now all of a sudden the police are marking people’s tires, putting warnings on their vehicles,” Ryan said. “It’s put me, for one thing, and other people into a panic.”

The situation would have been better if the city had given some prior notice that the change was coming, she said.

Beaton said the ordinance has been in effect for at least 60 years, but there wasn’t a need to enforce it until recently.

“Part of the reason, I think, is Main Street is fuller than it’s been in a number of years,” he said. “As a Main Street business and someone who lives here and shops here, I don’t want to see anybody go out of business or lose business; there’s nobody sitting at this table that wants this.”

The city has heard both from business owners whose customers have said they can’t find a parking space as well as businesses where the two-hour limit is a hardship, he said.

As the session wrapped up, Beaton mentioned Monday’s committee meeting and said the panel would “take this input to dissect it and come up with a plan to go forward. … We hear you loud and clear that this is not working.”