Free Parking to All, and to All a Good Night
Officials hope "meter amnesty" will encourage residents to shop local this holiday season.
Historic Ellicott City comes equipped with charm, antiques, fine dining, toys, beverages, and much more, including limited parking.
This year, as in the past two years, Howard County officials have decided to waive the meter fee from Nov. 26 - Dec. 5. Two of the biggest shopping weekends for the merchants on Main Street are Thanksgiving weekend (including the always-hectic Black Friday) and the weekend of Midnight Madness, which occurs Dec. 3. This year is the 33rd annual Midnight Madness, a night when there are carolers and good cheer aplenty and most of the shops on Main Street stay open until midnight.
"We want to do all we can to help local small businesses weather this challenging economy," County Executive Ken Ulman said in a statement.
Karen Besson, the proprietor of Art & Artisan, said "meter amnesty" as she put it, is a good idea. When asked about the overall parking situation in Ellicott City Besson said, "I would sum it up: there is no solution that would make everyone happy, restaurateurs, customers, and citizens." That being said, she said she thinks meter amnesty is a "good thing" and a "good gesture by the county." "
"Certain people will bemoan the fact that all the spots will be taken by merchants and employees," she added. Besson said she uses the free lot by the beginning of the trolley trail next to the Trolley Stop.
Joan Eve Shea, the proprietor of Joan Eve: Classics & Collectibles, is a fan of free parking. She thinks it is, "inviting and exciting." Shea has owned her store for "10 years on February first" and thinks that because of the current economy, Ellicott City "needs to do anything to increase sales."
Shea said that the last two holiday seasons when meter amnesty was offered, "people really appreciated it." She meticulously arranged her window display of men's pocket watches, jewelry, antique furniture, and generally fine looking pieces in an attempt to attract customers. Shea said the free meters will help, "as long as the store owners remember not to take up all the street parking." She never parks in front of her store, and like Besson, said she uses the free lot.
John Bassett, 63, the proprietor of Carpe Vinum -- a fixture in the town for six years -- has mixed feelings on the free holiday parking. When asked about the parking problem in Ellicott City, Bassett said, "There is no parking problem in this town." Affectionately known as "English John" by the locals, Bassett, an import from England, sees no reason why visitors can't park in one of the free lots that bookend the town at the top and bottom of Main Street, and walk to their stores of choice.
County Council Chairperson Courtney Watson said in a statement that the free meters may be a boon for the commercial district.
"We hope free metered parking on two of the busiest shopping weekends will help local businesses by encouraging residents to take advantage of all the great things to see and do in the Historic District," she said.
The parking spots in town that are not metered but are limited to two hours will still be limited to two hours during meter amnesty, and Bassett said he thinks that is just fine. "There is nothing in this town besides dining that takes more than two hours," he said.
The four metered parking areas account for upwards of 140 spaces in Ellicott City, and when Ellicott City gets hopping every spot is needed. This holiday season, don't worry about bringing change for the meters, but do think about bringing a camera to capture the picturesque scenes.