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Owner blames all-day parking for failure of her toy store; Mayor suggests it's time to take new look at rules

The owner of a downtown store that is closing at the end of the year told the Common Council last week that parking problems contributed to its demise.

Kathy O'Keefe, owner of Noah's Ark, a toy and children's book store in the Bewley Building on Market Street, also told the Council that the downtown situation isn't conducive to supporting a large numbers of small stores.

O'Keefe said the city made a mistake by doing away with parking time limits a few years ago.

"If you want a tourism district, you can't allow all day long parking," she said.

O'Keefe said the situation in the Bewley Building parking lot finally did her store in after 11 years.

She told the aldermen that National Recovery, a collection agency that leased office space in the building, used up 30 parking spaces all day long. "It put us out of business," O'Keefe said.

Charlene Seekins-Smith, the building owner, denied the claim. She noted that the collection agency moved to the Town of Lockport two months ago.

"She's just finding an excuse," Seekins-Smith said of O'Keefe. "National Recovery left Oct. 31 and since Nov. 1 she still hasn't had any customers, so what does that tell you?"

Seekins-Smith said only two of the agency's workers parked in the building lot, and the rest used a municipal lot across the street.

"We had to save room for our customers," she said.

Nevertheless, Mayor Michael W. Tucker said it might be worthwhile to investigate bringing back the old two-hour downtown parking limit.

O'Keefe said, "Parking is extraordinarily difficult with the mindset of people today." She said they just don't want to walk very far to a store.

"I talk to some businesses and they say parking's not a problem at all, and I talk to some businesses and they say it's a big problem," commented Heather B. Peck, program manager for Lockport Main Street.

O'Keefe said the most congested area is the corner of Main and Market, with the county auto bureau across the street from the Bewley Building.

She suggested constructing multilevel parking in the municipal lot at Chestnut and Elm streets across from the vacant supermarket that is supposed to be coverted into an ice arena.

"She's probably right," Seekins-Smith said.

O'Keefe also told the Council, "Although you say you want boutique shops, you have no downtown living that is conducive to the income level you need to have boutique shops."

Urban Park Towers, an 11-story apartment complex on Main Street, is federally subsidized low-income housing right next to the Bewley Building.

"I understand where she's coming from, but I don't agree," Peck said. A recent state grant for downtown business improvements envisioned the creation of three apartments, two over Sullivan Insurance at Main and North Transit streets, and one above Garlock's Restaurant on South Transit Street.