Motorists along Elmwood Avenue found out the hard way Saturday that they are expected to read the fine print -- the little print inside parking meters as well as the large print on the street signs regulating parking.
After police issued $30 parking tickets Saturday, several merchants and customers complained because they thought they could park for free on weekends.
The signs along the street say: "Two Hour Parking 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Except Sat. and Sun."
That means the rules don't apply Saturday and Sunday and you don't have to put money in the meter, right?
Wrong, say the police, who are cracking down on parking violations in a big way.
Inside -- on the side away from the coin slot -- meters carry the notice: "Hours of Operation 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. No Charge Sunday Except As Otherwise Posted."
So in addition to listing different hours, the notice seems to indicate that Sunday is the only free day and motorists must pay on Saturdays.
But many motorists and merchants say they hadn't noticed the fine print and, from the street signs, had concluded that Saturdays are free.
"It's very confusing," said Clarence Carnahan, owner of Exclusively Neon & Signs at 175 Elmwood, who posted his own sign Saturday.
"The police were issuing tickets up and down the street, and motorists were arguing -- unsuccessfully -- that Saturdays are free," Carnahan said. "Like both my grandfathers used to say, if you want to have control of a situation, create a point of confusion."
Paul Paladino and Michael Gillis kept a supply of quarters on hand in Elmwood Framing and Interiors at 245 Elmwood and asked customers if they had fed the meter.
"No," said Elizabeth Kuffman, "I thought it was free on Saturdays."
Informed that wasn't the case, she was handed a quarter.
"Is that any way to treat residents?" she asked of the ticketing.
Elmwood, said Gillis "is the only viable retail section left in the city." Now, police have made doing business more difficult.
Paladino said he complained, but the officer told him to take a picture of the sign and show it to the hearing officer.
Steven Jones, who operates Matti Rouse next door, said the officer who issued him a ticket at 11:29 a.m. Saturday told him he had to pay that day.
He said he never has received a ticket before on a Saturday and plans to protest.
The officers on Elmwood work out of the Downtown District, and Lt. Salvatore Losi, one of their supervisors, said he always has understood that Sunday is the only free day.
What about the signs?
"That only refers to the two-hour limit. It doesn't say you don't have to put money in the meter," he said.
But isn't it confusing?
"I'm not going to offer an opinion on someone else's confusion," Losi said. "I'm not confused by it. I understand the logic behind it."
Police issued more than 5,600 parking tickets last month, compared with slightly more than 1,900 the previous January.
Some officers as well as city officials and the city control board say officers have been enforcing the parking laws strictly because they are unhappy with the wage freeze that applies to police as well as other city employees.