January 16, 2013

Trader Joe's parking situation leads to headaches, boots

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – On weekends, customers bound for Trader Joe's on Marginal Way often can be seen circling the grocery store's small parking lot in search of a spot.

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A sign warns Trader Joe's customers against parking in West Marine's lot along Marginal Way in Portland.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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A sign posted next to West Marine at 127 Marginal Way warns drivers not to park in the lot unless they’re visiting the boating supply store or other businesses at the address. Trader Joe’s shoppers who park there may find their car towed or booted – the “crushed” threat was just a joke.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Some eventually disregard the reserved-parking signs in front of the nearby West Marine boating supplies business and pull into one of the spaces that are almost always available there.

That can turn a trip to the grocery into a far more expensive endeavor: Drivers may return to their car to find it immobilized with a Denver boot, and the parking attendant demanding $30 to have it removed.

Dan Hogan, a property manager with Fore River Management, which manages the building and the lot, said the fee is an enforcement tool, not a money-maker.

"It's a lot less than the $85 minimum it would cost if the car was towed," he said.

Furious customers have complained to police, but after looking into it, the city determined that the conflict is a civil matter, not criminal, said Trish McAllister, the police department's neighborhood prosecutor.

"It's their property," she said.

Owners of many private parking lots will have cars towed if they're not authorized to be in the lot, but won't have them booted – something that's long been the domain of the city's parking enforcement division.

Warren Elsaesser, manager at West Marine, said that after Trader Joe's opened in October 2010, West Marine's customer count dropped 10 percent by the next year. In 2012, it dropped another 6 percent.

He said the declines probably can't be attributed to the down economy, because revenue actually has gone up.

"We have lost quite a few of our customers," he said, and many customers now call ahead to find out whether parking is available.

A supervisor at Trader Joe's said no one at the store was authorized to talk to the press, and the store manager did not return a call for comment.

Elsaesser said it's not West Marine that's cracking down on parking, it's Fore River Management. In fact, Elsaesser has told his employees to focus on business and not get involved in the parking issue.

Still, it's hard when people pull up right in front of the store's entrance, get out and walk across the lot to Trader Joe's, he said.

Some are a little more subtle. They park, take a quick stroll through the supply store, grab a free flier, then head to Trader Joe's.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the parking lot has 140 spaces for Trader Joe's, with nearby off-street parking along Marginal Way.

She said the city didn't want to approve a bigger lot when the store opened, partially because there are plans for a parking garage at Chestnut and Somerset streets, which would add 200 spaces.

The idea is for people to park there and walk around the neighborhood, she said. The city also wants to encourage people to walk and bike to Bayside from other parts of the city, and bigger parking lots aren't part of that vision.

Clegg had no comment on Trader Joe's customers parking at neighboring businesses, saying it's a "tenant-to-tenant issue."

Hogan said Fore River Management has been using the boot since Trader Joe's opened three years ago, but he hasn't tracked the number of offenders.

Some of the signs forbidding Trader Joe's customers from parking outside their designated spots are tongue-in-cheek, saying illegally parked cars may be towed, booted or "crushed."

West Marine once put up a joke sign saying parking cost $50. "A few people actually came in and asked who to pay," Elsaesser said.

Hogan said none of it has made much of a difference. "I actually think it will get worse," he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer West Marine manager Warren Elsaesser says customer traffic has declined since Trader Joe’s opened in 2010 and its shoppers started illegally parking in his store’s lot.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer


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