Sparse parking, scarce shoppers

Downtown Cd'A businesses deal with construction

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Lexi Carlsen, left, and Caitlin McHugh cross Sherman Avenue Friday while browsing Coeur d'Alene retail shops. Construction on McEuen Park has affected parking and driving routes downtown.

COEUR d'ALENE - Shopping in downtown Coeur d'Alene may have hit a bump in the road.

And construction signs.

And traffic cones.

And congestion on the streets.

The season is starting out a little bumpy because of restricted access and parking caused by road construction and improvements, which have various roads temporarily closed or fenced off. Shoppers, as well as store owners and employees, have mixed feelings about how the process is affecting business now that the peak downtown shopping time has commenced.

"I think that the timing of which they're doing this is just very bad timing," said Charlotte Botelho, sales clerk at Lucky Monkey Trading Company.

Botelho, 34, of Coeur d'Alene, said she feels summer is not an ideal time for the project. "It just feels like poor planning," she said. She said she has noticed fewer people coming in to shop, and has overheard some shoppers venting frustrations.

"People are coming in here complaining about the lack of parking or how they have to park so far up in the residential area," she said. "It's kind of a deterrent almost to even come down and walk around."

"Parking" has become a buzzword for downtown patrons.

"I think parking is going to be the biggest issue," said Coeur d'Alene Chocolates employee Mariah Bell, 18, of Coeur d'Alene. She said she thinks this summer will mean fewer local youths, especially, meandering through downtown, a direct consequence of the road blockage and congestion.

"Either there's going to be more walking or less kids down here," she said.

Bell's coworker, Melissa Wulf, 22, of Post Falls, has been employed with Coeur d'Alene Chocolates for two summers.

"No one that lives here locally wants to come downtown because it's such a pain to find parking," she said. "Not that it was easy before to find parking, but now a lot of people are grumpy about it."

She said the tourist season is still steady because most visitors staying downtown don't have transportation and walk anyway, but some regular customers are relocating their business to the Government Way store solely because of parking.

"A lot of people have problems walking or something like that, and they don't want to park six blocks up," she said. She said some of the store's best customers have just stopped coming in because they couldn't find parking.

"It's easy for us (younger people) to walk a few blocks, but some people can't walk miles to be down Sherman. It's kind of pros and cons, but mostly cons," Wulf said.

Terry Crawford, of Hayden, was enjoying the day and walking her goldendoodle Piper along Sherman Avenue on Thursday.

She said she often drives downtown, but "the construction's definitely keeping me from coming as much," she said. "In fact, sad to say, I just kind of cruised around and was looking for where I should park. My main motivation was to come down and walk her by the water, and I usually walk through town, but you know, parking is a problem."

She ended up parking on Lakeside Avenue, which offers two free hours. She originally chose a lot by the Human Rights Education Institute, but the lot was $2 for the first hour and cost more after that, so she circled the area and kept looking.

"It was $4 parking just to walk my dog," she said. "It's not worth it."

She said she usually stops and enjoys a meal or a beverage while she and Piper are out and about, or pop into a dog-friendly shop, but it's a little difficult now with the restricted parking and impending time limit.

Holly Raymond, 26, and Megan Abey, 19, were out thrift store shopping and relishing a day off in the sun. As locals, they spend plenty of time in the downtown scene.

Raymond said she definitely noticed a lot less people walking by while she was sitting outside of Java on Sherman.

"Especially on a hot day like this, like nobody is out, there's nobody. It's really weird," she said. "I know that school is still in session for a little bit, but usually when it's hot, there's like tons of people, and it's now it's not like that."

The two friends said they have observed an abundance of cars backed up into intersections. Raymond said when she was walking toward Sherman while shopping, she saw a line of cars on Lakeside, "just streaming through," she said. "I was like 'Woah, there's a ton of traffic.'"

One business owner sees the silver lining through the construction chaos.

Craig Ely, owner of Del Sol Coeur d'Alene, said his shop has been affected "a very little bit." Ely is the secretary on the executive board of the Downtown Association. He said he feels the association has done many things to help the situation, including creating free parking at Memorial Field and by City Hall. He mentioned the free shuttle that will soon transport passengers through town with multiple stops.

"Parking is not an issue," he said. "We've experienced a little slowdown, with the Third Street and Sherman construction, but that's soon to be over."

Ely said he was in the road construction business for 35 years, and he feels the progress is "right on. As far as I know, they're on schedule, maybe even a little ahead. People say it's the wrong time of year, but in the construction business this is the perfect time. As far as I'm concerned, it's all good."

He said a little "toe-stepping" is bound to happen during construction projects, but he feels downtown is still vibrant.

Buddy Le, Coeur d'Alene resident and owner of The Coeur d'Alene Galleries, said he has noticed a decrease in foot traffic "because it's a little difficult to get around."

"However, the people that are down here are very positive and they've obviously made an extra effort to go to the stores., he said.

Le said he knows the parking and construction is a temporary issue.

"I do truly believe that, in the long run, all of the improvements are going to be really good for downtown."

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