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Follow these tips for hassle-free holiday parking

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas: wreaths, holly, and traffic jams on Niagara Falls Boulevard. But somehow, car-crammed parking lots just don’t inspire the same warm, fuzzy feeling as the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow.

Finding a parking spot is one of the more annoying aspects of holiday shopping. Tracking people back to their cars doesn’t work because, all too often, they’re merely walking back to drop off packages, then heading in to buy more.

The International Parking Institute, a parking industry association which, apparently, exists, offers these tips for hassle-free holiday parking.

• Schedule extra time for parking. From now through January, there will be no such thing as “running to the mall.” Don’t expect to just pop in and out on your lunch break. Always leave yourself enough time to get into the lot, find a spot and probably walk a long way to get inside. Allow for extra time at the registers, too, since lines are likely to be longer than usual.

• Go when it’s less crowded. Retail workers in Erie and Niagara counties told me stores are much quieter during the early morning hours and dinner time, so that’s the best time to hit them.

• Don’t even bother trying to get a dream spot. Instead of cruising the aisles closest to store entrances, drive around the perimeter of the lot checking for the farthest spaces first. You’ll find a spot faster, and waste less time and gas.

• If it makes you feel better, try to think of parking far away as a good deed. When I’m stuck parking in East Jahunga, I like to imagine I’m keeping a spot open for someone who is elderly, has trouble walking, or has to use the bathroom really, really bad.

And let’s not kid ourselves – we can all use the exercise.

• Use a parking app. and show lots and pricing in different shopping districts. The Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls app as well as apps like My Car Locator keep track of where you parked your car and help you navigate back to it when your shopping is done.

• Snap a picture of your parking section, ramp level or another landmark to remind you where you parked. I like to take a picture of what entrance I used, too, so I can find my way out.

• Be a vigilant driver, especially when backing out. Watch for pedestrians (especially child-sized ones below your sight line), check all your mirrors and look over your shoulder.

• Protect your belongings. Don’t leave anything visible that someone might break your window to grab – not even loose change. If you plan to drop packages off at your car and go back inside, lock them in the trunk. Thieves watch parking lots and will see you throw those packages into the back seat.

• Don’t use handicap parking spaces unless you have a permit. Seriously, who does that?

• Roll up the windows, lock the doors and, of course, never leave your kids or pets inside.

• Don’t be that idiot pedestrian. Stay in lighted areas, pay attention to where you’re walking, stay off the phone and watch for cars that might be backing out.

• Consider valet. Walden Galleria offers it near the Cheesecake Factory entrance for $5.

Got consumer tips or questions? Email, “like” me on Facebook at, or follow me on Twitter, @DiscountDivaSam.