Limited parking causes problems for businesses

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — “There’s definitely been an impact. Its been a season long thing for the summer here going into the fall,” Jason Fowler, Pour Bros Taproom co-owner, said.

He’s talking about limited parking in one city that’s causing a headache for customers and business owners.

We’re a year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic and business owners say they’re still struggling in a lot of ways, but not all of those reasons are directly connected to the pandemic.

Businesses all over Central Illinois have a similar story to tell. Things just don’t look the same as they did before the pandemic, but WCIA took a closer look at Downtown Champaign, where staffing, parking and crime have made it hard for some places to bounce back.

“There’s a shortage in all the grocery stores and pretty much all the stores. There’s a shortage. You got to wait forever to try and pay for your groceries, but I’m hoping things will, not hoping, praying, things will get better,” Jeanette Clark, Urbana resident visiting downtown Champaign, said.

Its something that has been causing problems nationwide: the staffing shortage.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Fowler said. “We have a smaller staff. We’ve also had a lot of our staff stay so that’s not been an issue for us, but I’ve heard numerous places are struggling and even not able to stick to consistent hours.”

All types of businesses have been dealing with low staff. In Champaign, some restaurants, bars, and businesses have even shortened their hours to deal with the small number of employees.

“I think its been a frustrating time for everybody over the last 18-20 months as we deal with all the hurdles coming our way,” Fowler said.

Indoor dining and places were shut down for months and right when things began to open up, the City of Champaign closed some downtown parking lots and some street parking at certain times on weekends. Their goal is to limit crowds from gathering in order to deter violence.

“Whether it be road closures, whether it be side walk closures, there’s just a lot going on right now and its a difficult time coming off of restrictions we’ve had on businesses throughout the last 18 months and definitely I’d say parking is another hurdle in getting customers in,” Fowler said.

To add to that, other street parking is closed because of construction causing more of a problem for people who want to come downtown.

“Yes, an inconvenience,” Clark said. “Just today to get here was an inconvenience. I had to make the block several times before I could get into park for the Farmers Market.”

While Pour Bros Taproom says they are lucky to be near a parking lot that stays open, other businesses in the area told WCIA the limited parking and construction zones, on top of the staffing shortages and pandemic-related issues, have made an already difficult situation even worse.

Here’s a message from the City about the closures:

Also, earlier this summer the City closed some Downtown parking spaces and three City-owned parking lots on Friday and Saturday nights in order to discourage certain unlawful activities that were taking place in those spaces – most notably the public consumption of alcohol. The parking spaces/lots included, and time frames they are currently not available for parking are: 

  • Parking spaces in the 100-200 block of Walnut and 30 block of Taylor Street. These spaces are not available on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 10 pm until 2 am. These parking spaces have no-parking signs announcing those time restrictions affixed to the meters. (Many of these spaces are also currently bagged because they are also in the construction zone mentioned above, but those bags will be removed when the construction is soon finished). 
  • The City parking lots at Washington & Walnut and Washington & Neil are both closed at 9:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights and reopen at 7:00 am the next day. 
  • The City parking lot at Clark and State is closed at 6 pm on Fridays and reopens at 7 am on Mondays. 

The City continues to monitor activity in the downtown district and has found these closures have had the desired effect to discourage the public consumption of alcohol in these areas. Because these measures have been effective, the closures will remain in place for the time being. The public will be informed if further changes are implemented in the future. 

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