Parking issues may force American Art Company to close

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In business in Tacoma since 1889, and at their Broadway location for 40 years, owners cite potential abuse of handicap parking placards

By Matt Nagle

matt@tacomaweekly.com

It certainly is no secret that parking in downtown Tacoma can be an extremely frustrating experience for drivers, but for the owners of American Art Company at 1126 Broadway, it is threatening their very livelihoods.

“About a year and a half ago I noticed that the business was slumping more than normal. It wasn’t usually this quiet,” said Tammy Radford, who owns American Art Company with her husband Craig. “People had been mentioning that parking was a pain and I’d always say don’t come down at lunchtime and give them different options. Then I began noticing that the parking wasn’t turning over at all and that handicap placards were in all the cars. It’s been since then that it’s been ongoing.”

Walking the sidewalks along this section of Broadway, it’s clear that car after car with a handicap placard hanging from the rearview mirror is parked in spots with a two-hour limit. Having such a placard allows for free, all-day parking, which makes it difficult for customers to access businesses. 

From keeping an eye on things for the past 12 months, Radford noticed that the drivers of these cars appear to be people going to and from their jobs, as they get out of their cars and walk some distance to their destination. 

“Something seems fishy,” Radford said. “We fully support people with actual disabilities having these signs, but it seems like people without disabilities are using them to park for free all day.”

She even put friendly notes on the cars. “People didn’t take kindly to that – they threw them on the ground – so it didn’t make any difference. I was appealing to their conscience, expressing how hard it was on the businesses when everyone is using the street for their daily parking because they stay all day in those spots.” 

At one point she approached two women as they went to their cars. Radford was told she was “being rude” and one of the women pointed to her handicap placard and told Radford, “Take it up with the city.” 

“I know that there are disabilities that can’t be seen, but some of them will park blocks away in order to get the free parking. It’s not that they’re unable to walk and none of them have wheelchairs because I see them on a daily basis. I see them running to their car or running to work, some in high heels, so it’s not a hardship for them,” Radford said. 

She said she’s started to notice just how many cars are parked throughout downtown with a handicap placard hanging from the rear view mirror. “There are so many – it’s incredible. Not just in this area, but everywhere I go I am focused on that now and you see them all over. There aren’t that many people, I don’t think, who would require them.” 

She doubts that American Art Company will survive until summer if things continue this way. The business has been in Tacoma since 1889 and at the Broadway location for the past 40 years.

“Our business survived the recession, when many galleries shut down, and business is worse now than the worst times in 2007-2008. We will not be able to survive this if something is not done. I don’t know if it’s too late because it’s already happened – people just aren’t coming anymore. I will be here all day and no one will come in.

“It’s heartbreaking. Every day it gnaws at me because the reality is I don’t think I’m going to be able to save it. We can’t afford to move the business and I don’t think we should have to.”

When Radford contacted the city, she said that she received help from Parking Services Manager Eric Huseby. “He’s a great guy and has been very helpful,” she said. Bringing the situation to Huseby’s attention led to two 30-minute loading zone spots installed just down from American Art Company. Drivers with handicap placards are legally not supposed to park in such loading zones, even though it continues to happen.

Huseby said that ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) stings have been organized wherein enforcement officers wait all day, sometimes for three for four days in a row, for people to come back to their cars then are asked about their placard and the associated I.D. that legitimizes use of the placard. 

“Lots of the placards are not ones that appear valid – we get these all the time,” Huseby said, “but that is not the standard for these placards. What we have found in our testing is that 30-40 percent of individuals we’ve approached are not sanctioned. They’re borrowing someone else’s placard or something.”

Hoping to avoid the $450 citation for abusing parking with a handicap placard, stings will show some effect for a while, but ultimately these drivers end up returning when they assume that the sting is over.

“We’ve had issues where we’ll be out there and we’ll see people come out of buildings when the shifts end. Employees will see us and work for a couple more hours then come back and see us again and stay into the evening to avoid interaction with us,” Huseby said. “(Stings) require a lot of resources that we just don’t have to it routinely.” 

Huseby said that while the current Washington State parking standard is a four-hour limit, in Tacoma the city has “historically shined that on so those are conversations we’re having right now about whether it’s appropriate for us to go to four hours. The broader conversation is for ADA placard owners to pay for parking.”

Huseby also noted that the parking stalls in question are not great for people with legitimate disabilities given the lack of ramps and other amenities. “My push is to say that we should create a robust infrastructure for those types of users, with designated ADA spots throughout the city.” 

Taking it a step further, working with the state legislature to create a House bill to address the problems would be in order. “Part of this is to get a coalition together and say that it doesn’t make sense to allow free parking – it’s a conversation with the state.”

Other businesses along this block of Broadway are experiencing troubles too. At Travel Leaders / Travel Center Inc. at 1142 Broadway, manager Kim Johnston said she has been battling this parking issue for a long time.

“For years it’s been like this,” she said. “It was a real problem a couple years back and we still have the same problem. When we complained with security and they waited for people and questioned them on their (handicap) placards, it got better but now it’s back again.”

Like Radford, she too sees the drivers of the cars in question as they walk a distance back and forth to their destination. “I can’t judge whether they’re handicapped, but I see them walk to their offices, come out and walk to their cars. It’s really not fair to our clients.” 

Johnston said she is particularly concerned for her elderly clients having to park blocks away and at the top of the long hill between Broadway and Market Street. Being that she manages a travel agency, the business gets a good number of elderly clients. 

The owners of Infinitea Café at 1127 Broadway, Brad and Duri Berryman, said that their business has even gotten bad reviews online because of the parking issues. 

“Generally one or two (drivers) have walkers or stuff but for most part they get out of car and just walk off without any walking issues at all,” Brad said. “One lady told me she has a placard because she’s responsible to get her dad to the hospital and uses it to park.”

Daniela Lewis has rented a chair at Vasuda Salon (1117 Broadway) for two years and said that her clients are often up to 15 minutes late for appointments. 

“It is an issue. For me, I’m doing hair all the time so I have to watch my parking every two hours or else I get a $35 ticket. They can get away with it because the parking garages don’t have the same rules. They can only park for free on the street, which leaves the garages for the rest of us and it’s not cheap at all. It gets pricey between tickets and paying for parking period.”

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