Old Town shopkeepers hear about it all the time: customers complaining about parking near their Old Town shop.
At Old Town Hobbies and Games, located near the southwest corner of the plaza, owners Gabrielle and Joe Benitez say they hear complaints from customers on a near daily basis.
“I hear from a lot of our customers like ‘Oh, I would come down here more but parking is such a hassle,’ and I 100% agree with that,” Joe Benitez said. “I hear that at least once a week from locals.”
The Benitezes aren’t alone.
According to several Old Town shop owners, parking issues have been a perpetual issue for shopkeepers.
Shopkeepers say they have to contend with not only a lack of dedicated parking for themselves, but also with frustrated customers struggling with finding a spot or having to pay tickets from parking violations.
For some of the shopkeepers, customer complaints equate to lost income.
Gabrielle Benitez said those complaints can translate to less business since some customers are less likely to return to the store, and Old Town in general, after having experienced issues with parking.
It also creates potential safety issues, she said. The shop often hosts card game tournaments that can end at midnight, which means some participants then have to walk a longer distance to their cars in the dark since they can’t park for free close to the store.
In Old Town, patrons and merchants have several parking options. There is free two-hour parking along several of the streets, private paid parking lots that often offer daily rates, paid parking lots operated by the city, paid parking lots surrounding the Albuquerque Museum, and free parking several blocks away.
Shop owners say the mix of parking can be confusing for customers since some of the city lots aren’t easy to distinguish from private lots, and some parking signs are difficult to interpret.
“There’s really a little bit of uncertainty about where they can park,” Gabrielle Benitez said. “The city lots are not always clearly labeled that you have to pay to park there.”
She said she sees people receive parking citations in front of her shop on Rio Grande and South Plaza Street almost daily due to the lack of clear signage.
Difficult-to-understand signs have become a hassle for her customers who have told her that they don’t visit the shop as often as they would like primarily due to parking, she said.
“Unfortunately, it is impacting business. I think not just for us but for a lot of businesses out there because we’re starting to see people not (wanting) to come down as often,” she said.
Ashley “Ash” Clow, owner of Ascension Crystals, on San Felipe, said she has also seen patrons getting ticketed due to unclear signage.
“So many people come into my store and say ‘Can I park here? Am I allowed to park here?’ And nobody even knows it’s two hour parking because there’s not a sign there, and so (the city doesn’t) have it labeled very well,” she said.
She too has had customers say they postponed a trip to visit her shop because of the lack of parking.
“I think there’s a lot of ways to remedy it and to keep Old Town the beautiful place that it is that everybody wants to come to,” Clow said. “We want not only the tourists to come, we want locals to come to Old Town … we want it to be a good experience all around and the parking I think is kind of tough.”
Merchants also have parking complaints
The lack of parking doesn’t just affect potential customers, some business owners also cite it as a constant issue for themselves and staff members.
David Gage, owner of D.E.E.H.’s Candles & More on San Felipe near Charlevoix, said the parking situation in Old Town has been a constant issue for him and his business partners.
Gage said that he and his business partners often have to park far away from the shop, sometimes near Sawmill Market several blocks away, in order to secure free parking without fear of getting a ticket.
Still, Gage said he has paid around $350 in tickets since opening his shop in 2020 due to exceeding the two hour parking limit for free parking areas.
Shop owners can purchase monthly parking passes from the City of Albuquerque for $36.75, according to Scott Cilke, Albuquerque Department of Municipal Development spokesperson.
Gage said he decided against purchasing the monthly pass since it would be a financial burden to purchase the passes for him and the shop’s other workers.
“People will say it’s $30, but for a small business $30 is a lot of money,” Gage said.
Joe Benitez said he pays about $60 a month to park at a private lot near his shop and merchants often have to choose between an added expense or the risk of a ticket.
“You’re either going to pay to park or you’re not going to pay to park but you just risk not having your car there when you get back,” he said.
Ideally, Gage said he would like to either see dedicated free merchant parking or to see the city make all its Old Town lots free.
The city has occasionally offered free parking at city-owned lots during the holiday season and Gage said the free parking did bring in more business than usual.
“Whenever the city decides to not give them tickets, honestly we see a nice crowd of people,” he said.
Cilke said the city has considered offering free parking for city-owned spaces, but “is unable to offer free parking due to financial constraints caused by street improvements, maintenance, and the general flow of traffic within Old Town that the paid parking covers.”
Last year the city earned $24,232 in revenue from Old Town parking meters, according to city data. Data prior to 2021 was unavailable.
Several merchants said that irregular enforcement of parking rules has made shop operations difficult since some owners and customers have reported receiving parking tickets despite not exceeding the parking limit.
When asked about those claims, the city responded that parking enforcement uses a “digitalized chalking” system in which car location, license plates and tire stems are noted by the parking enforcer and then any car still in the same position after two hours is ticketed.
Gage said that he has received tickets while parked outside of his store to unload shop merchandise. Clow said she has also received tickets while unloading merchandise.
While Old Town has several spaces dedicated as unloading zones for shopkeepers, Clow said that sometimes those spaces are occupied by either other shopkeepers or Old Town patrons. With loading zones occupied, Clow said she sometimes has to park in the two-hour parking zones instead.
Clow estimates that she has spent several hundred in parking citations, and she seldom parks near the plaza, instead opting to park farther away in free parking areas like near Tiguex Park.
“Maybe I would park in the two-hour parking, unload something, forget about it, and I mean two hours and one minute like I have a ticket,” she said.