This particular Friday began as usual along Mass Ave. The morning coffee crowd. A few walkers and bicyclists. Motorists coming and going.Actually, what Brooks described here is no different than what happens on numerous occasions throughout the downtown area year-round. As a downtown dweller, I've come to realize the city always bags the meters at least 24 hours before the event. Having figured out how it works, I take full advantage of the free parking. Even though the meters are bagged in advance, the city won't have your car towed until the day of the event. At least one Mass Ave business owner was smart enough to figure this out. Brooks reports that, while other merchants complained of lost business, Tracy Robertson of the Mass Ave pub reported she suffered no loss of sales. "That's because she stood outside and waved folks into the spaces herself," Brooks writes.
Suddenly, there were red bags everywhere. On every parking meter. Like cicadas. Like the measles. There couldn't have been any more of them if city police had put a red bag over the head of every panhandler.
Suddenly, there was no place to park. From Vermont Street to the East End, Mass Ave parking meters had been hooded like a condemned man going to the gallows. "No Paking, Tow-Away Zone," the bags menacingly motorists.
Merchants were confused as they came to realize what had happened: City police had "bagged" the meters to accommodate Saturday morning's annual Gay Pride Parade, which a full day later wuld form on the East End, start at College Avenue and proceed down Mass Ave to Vermont Street, where it would turn west toward University Park. But the method had changed: City police had decided to use the red bags instead of the cardboard placards which would have read, "No parking Saturday."
As someone who walks on Mass Ave every day on my morning commute to work, I have a question for some of these Mass Ave merchants. If you're so concerned about parking for your customers, why do you allow your employees to park on Mass Ave in front of your business and feed the meters all day? Ironically, some of the gay business owners on the Ave were yelling the loudest. "As a small business owner, I personally feel helpless in matters like this," said Rob Hoaglin of Hoaglin's To Go. "If we treated our customers as if they had no recourse when we made a mistake, we would be out of business," Hoaglin added. The former head of Indiana Equality weighed in with her own criticism. "Kathy Sarris of Aesop's Tables said her Friday business was down 50 percent, while Saturday's lunch business was off 65 percent--on a day when it is normally boosted by the Gay Pride Parade." "But she said the debacle was an even bigger problem for her employees who were either sent home or lacked for tipping customers." "To me it showed a total disregard for those who make a living on the Avenue," Sarris said.
Others in the Indiana GLBT community might offer their own ideas why Sarris' business was off on Gay Pride weekend, but I know from personal observation that Hoaglin's had a booming business on the morning of the parade. So did the Starbucks down the street. Tracy Robertson opened her Mass Ave pub early to take advantage of the large crowds gathered out front of her business to watch the parade. She told me she had a busier-than-normal Saturday lunch crowd immediately following the parade. And the Metro did a brisk business with its special brunch offer for parade goers. On the other end, the Old Pointe didn't even bother to open its doors until the parade was concluding despite the large crowds gathered at its vantage point where the parade converged with Vermont Street.
I don't disagree with the merchants that the city should have used the cardboard placards instead of the "No Parking" bags, but this has been a problem elsewhere as well. I happened to witness the exchange between city police and the business owner of the Chatterbox over the parking dispute on that Friday during my lunch break. One of the business owners tagged the bags with notes saying it was okay to park in the spaces on Friday, but city police viewed this as defacing city property. The police ripped down all of the tags posted by the merchant. During the exchange with the Chatterbox owner, the city police officer warned that anyone caught doing it again would be arrested. The Chatterbox owner complained to the officer that he obviously didn't understand business. As I recall, the Chatterbox was closed during the Gay Pride Parade.
Rather than complain about the "No Parking" bags, the Mass Ave business owners would spend their time more productively by sitting down and trying to figure out how to take advantage of the more than 30,000 people who converge on the downtown area for the Pride celebration. Many of the visitors are from out-of-town and offer a source of a lot of potential new revenues for these merchants during the weekend. The dirty truth is that more than a few of these business owners don't welcome the Parade despite promoting itself as "45 degrees from the ordinary." That's what needs to change more than the way the city administers its "No Parking" policy for special events.