PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE METERS

bagged-metersBagged for your pleasure: All metered lots in Red Bank are free until December 27. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Assuming snow-socked shoppers return to downtown Red Bank in the remaining days before Christmas, they’ll find that off-street parking meters have donned their traditional holiday headdresses.

That means free parking in the municipal lots. And before this past weekend’s snowstorm, the public was responding positively, merchants and local officials say.

The borough instituted its annual two-week meter moratorium a week ago and, by midweek, business owners and shoppers were reporting positive feedback. The municipal lots were full of cars that last Wednesday afternoon, it took a redbankgreen reporter a couple trips around the White Street  lot.

It isn’t clear how much the giveaway affects the borough ledgers to give up meter and overtime parking fees for nine days, but the local parking authority typically collects $8,000 to $10,000 per week from meters, including those on the street, according to borough CFO Frank Mason. But merchants said it wasn’t hurting their bottom lines.

“We’ve had some more foot traffic,” said Matt Fisher, vice president of A.H. Fisher Diamonds on Broad Street. He estimated that there’d been about a 50 percent increase in foot traffic. “People are looking. People are shopping.”

Dish co-owner and chef Anthony Ferrando said that while the holidays are usually a busy time of year for his restaurant, lunches have been abnormally busy, which he thinks could be due to the free parking.

“It definitely helps because the parking lots are full,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of people in town. It’s great.”

Belmar resident Dan Guerra overheard Ferrando talking about the free parking and had to insert his own rave, saying that while he comes to shop in Red Bank often, arriving to a parking lot with covered meters brings a smile to his face.

“It’s really convenient. I think it’s just a great thing to do,” Guerra said.

But does it make him want to do a little extra shopping in town?

“Yes, it does very much,” he said.

Nancy Adams, executive director of RiverCenter, said suspending the parking fees, which has been customary in town for the last five years or so, has accomplished the goal of drawing people into town so far.

However, she said there are other factors, namely the time of year and the fresh presence of Urban Outfitters that are helping drive people to Red Bank. She said she’s talked to business owners who are seeing a lot of new faces, and many businesses are either on par or up from their numbers last year.

“It’s doing what we were hoping it would do,” Adams said. “That draw of Urban Outfitters has attracted new shoppers and they’re going to other stores. It’s a good sign.”

If it keeps up, the local businesses will reap the benefits and turn a nice profit well beyond the new year, Adams said. But they’ve got to get the shoppers here first, she added, which is the intention of the borough sucking wind on meter fees for a couple weeks.

“We just hope that our businesses have a great holiday season and make the money they need to survive,” she said. “The economy still hasn’t quite recovered, so we want to see them still going strong into New Year’s.”

Parking is free at all metered lots in town and will remain in effect until December 27. On-street meters will stay operative during that period.