Students are parking their vehicles in spaces along Gaskin Avenue, Wiggin Street and Brooklyn Street for prolonged periods of time, causing The Village Inn, Wiggin Street Coffee and Kenyon Inn to raise concerns about this harming their business. Some students have parked their cars in lots typically used by customers, cutting off potential patrons and their much-needed revenue, as businesses have already seen significant losses during the pandemic.
Gambier Deli co-owner Jeanne Poland believes that Kenyon students don’t fully realize their impact on Gambier’s businesses.
“I think the students who are using those spaces don’t realize that the client base that sustains us when the school is not in session is the very one we are losing because of the parking situation,” Poland said.
According to local officials, Gambier has tried to offer enough free parking to support downtown businesses. During the Farr Hall renovations, the Village angled the parking spaces along Gaskin Avenue to free up more space than would be offered by standard parallel parking. The Village also chose to not install parking meters, deciding instead to rely on community members being respectful of parking time limits.
However, according to Village Administrator R.C. Wise, Kenyon students have continued to park in these spots.
“When our businesses open in the morning, the downtown parking spaces are often filled with cars that have been given a Kenyon parking permit to be parked elsewhere on the campus,” Wise said.
According to Poland, customers have struggled to patronize the Deli simply because of an inability to park nearby.
“We had one guest tell us that they had driven by and assumed we were extremely busy because there were no parking spaces,” Poland said. “They decided to go elsewhere because they didn’t have time to search for a place to park. Our dining room happened to be empty at that time. This is happening over and over again.”
Wise also stated that an increasing number of customers who ordered food online to pick up curbside have struggled to find a place to stop. These losses have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has forced some local businesses — like the Kenyon Inn — to look for new sources of revenue.
“Many, if not all, of those businesses are struggling to recover from months of lost revenue during the pandemic,” Vice President for Facilities, Planning and Sustainability Ian Smith said. “Even one potential customer who becomes frustrated at the lack of available parking and goes elsewhere hurts these businesses.”
In an effort to discourage students and other vehicle owners from abusing these parking spaces, local deputies have cracked down on vehicles parked for longer than the allotted time, including overnight, issuing parking tickets. According to Wise, the Sheriff’s department issued a total of 94 tickets this year alone.
But the Village’s methods of enforcement include more than tickets. Wise said that the Village has immobilization devices — commonly known as “the boot” — that can be placed on illegally parked vehicles. In addition, the Village can tow unlawfully parked cars to a Mount Vernon garage.
Wise says that the Village has continued to communicate with Kenyon’s leadership in order to find more collaborative solutions. In the meantime, the parking ticket crackdown continues.
This crackdown, however, comes with collateral damage. According to Wiggin Street Coffee General Manager Danae Troyer, the increased activity of local authorities in response to business complaints has caused workers to receive an unusually high number of tickets as well.
“It just feels a little unfair because we didn’t get ticketed before this was a problem,” Troyer said. “We’re getting parking tickets when we have to park there to work here. We have eight-hour shifts, so we can’t really drive out every two hours to move our cars. It’s just frustrating.”
Village Inn co-owner Margaret Lewis is frustrated as well, saying that a constantly full lot deters much needed business.
“When the spaces are full, there is little room for customers and business employees coming from off campus to park, which may seem like a small matter, but we actually derive much of our business from the local Knox County community, not just Kenyon College,” Lewis said.
The lack of parking has also complicated accessibility to customers who rely on being able to park close to the entrance.
“We’ve had elderly people tell us that they can’t physically walk the distance from across Middle Path to our places,” Poland said.
Poland states that Gambier’s out-of-the-way location requires local business owners to work harder to attract customers. The economic impact notwithstanding, Poland regrets the exclusionary appearance of a constantly occupied parking lot.
“We used to be a very welcoming community loved by so many and a favorite place to visit, but because the parking laws are not being observed, we appear to be just the opposite,” Poland said.