Herald JournalHerald Journal, March 3, 2003

No parking along Highway 12 is sore point to HL retailers without it

By Lynda Jensen

No parking along Highway 12 is a sore point for Howard Lake retail business owners left without it ­ and is now being blamed for the closing of George's Seafood in Howard Lake.

The parking was removed from Highway 12 as part of an agreement in 1997 between the city and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The lack of parking, combined with the downturned economy, appear to be too much for George's Seafood, which sold its building to a construction and carpentry business.

"I just got tired of people driving by," Schmitz said, saying the lack of parking was the reason for leaving Howard Lake.

Schmitz is relocating to Willmar, still along Highway 12, but in a building with adequate parking, he said.

The year before closing, Schmitz invested in new signs and opened his business year around, instead of being open three months out of the year as before.

This didn't help, and his sales plummeted, he said. Customers gave him story after story, complaining about parking.

Business owner Jim Ittel pointed out that losing retail is no way to attract patrons into town and promote commerce for other businesses.

Ittel has been vigorously bitter of the parking situation, which heavily affects his longtime butcher shop on the south side of Highway 12.

Posey Patch flower shop owner Jenell Sawatzke agreed about parking, saying that the loss is a huge setback for her, even though her parking is right around the corner.

"It killed my business," Sawatzke said. Her front door walk-in traffic has greatly decreased, she said.

"You can't get people to make that right turn," Schmitz said, speaking of the west entrance of the park and ride lot near Posey Patch. "I can't get them to stop."

One loyal customer who stopped ended up at the retaining wall behind Joe's Sport Shop, Schmitz said. The wife got angry and told her husband to keep going on their way, he said.

Also, the lot is dark at night, since he was open until 7 p.m., and this chased customers away, he said.

"I got tired of them (customers) telling me 'I've been meaning to stop by for the past year,'" Schmitz said.

Both Schmitz and Sawatzke also say that travellers have picked up speed through town, since drivers previously seemed to slow down when they were mixed within the proximity of parked cars.

Now cars are right at the curb, whizzing by, instead of being a lane away, Sawatzke said. In fact, this is ruining her building sign, which is on the receiving end of dirt, salt and debris.

"It's a freeway," Schmitz said. From 2 p.m. on, drivers go non-stop along the highway, he said. "They're not going 30," he said.

There is a movement afoot to circulate a petition drive to return parking along Highway 12, spurred by Ittel.

The petition was mentioned during the Howard Lake Business Association by Ittel and Ed Lahr of The Greens golf course, although no action was taken.

Returning parking along the highway is unlikely to take place, commented John Leeberg of MnDOT; although there is always the possibility as long as politicians are involved, he added.

The parking issue is a done deal and it's really up to MnDOT, commented Howard Lake City Administrator Kelly Bahn.

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