Protest in Downtown Wilmington

WILMINGTON – About 50 people walked through the streets of the downtown business district yesterday, carrying signs and protesting the use of parking meters that they say drive away business and “make the downtown a hostile unfriendly place.”
The people brought noon traffic to a standstill as the protesters moved en masse down Front Street at the height of the busy lunch hour.
“You’re killing my business,” said Millard F. Yeager, owner of the Circa 1944 at 8 North Front St. “Everybody that comes to my restaurant gets a $20 ticket. I could paper my walls with all the tickets my customers throw at me.”
Mr. Yeager was in the vanguard of the group, holding a sign that said “Give no quarter!”
Downtown parking has been a bone of contention since 2000, when meters were put in so that people wouldn’t tie up one spot all day. People had complained that shop workers took all the best spots and kept them. Since the meters were put in, there has been a continuous flurry of letters to the editor in the newspaper; ill will and complaints from nearly everyone.
“I take lessons right downtown and they last three hours,” said Emma Van Horner, of Leland. “Bad luck for me that the meters will only let you stay two hours. I can’t tell you how many tickets I’ve gotten. It’s just not fair.” She takes glazing lessons at Twice Baked Pottery Painting Studio, 8 Market St., and they cost $120 for six weeks. The tickets she has had to pay have cost her $380.
“If this darned blasted city council is trying to drive people away, they’re sure doing a good job,” said Van Horner.
Mayor Bill Saffo says solving the traffic and parking problem is the number one item on his agenda. “If it’s the last thing I do, parking will be free in downtown Wilmington.”
The demonstrators were primarily small business owners from the downtown area. The protest lasted about twenty minutes, and then the protesters went back to work.
Ironically, the meter maid was giving out tickets in the wake of the protest, and four of the cars she ticketed belonged to people in the protest.
All four say they will appeal their violations.
The meters cost 50 cents per hour, and the parking garage costs $1 per hour.
Since the parking meters were installed, several long-time businesses have left the downtown area, leaving in their wake empty storefronts and bleak prospects.
Hana Johansen would like to move her cookie business downtown, but doesn’t see how she could make a living. “I’m going to Landfall where parking’s free, and my customers won’t get hassled.”
“This place will be a ghost town if the politicians don’t do something about it,” says Yeager.

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