Dear Ace: How do the Downtown parking stamps work? Why do some businesses readily stamp the ticket you get when you enter one of our garages or lots and some do not? What gives? —Country Mouse in the City
Dear Mouse: Firstly, I must commend you on learning to drive a car, what with your tiny, furry little feet and complete lack of opposable thumbs. And Ace must also heartily concur that the randomness of Downtown parking validation is vexing in the extreme. Many’s the time that, after parking the Acemobile in its customary oil-stained spot, Ace finds himself unable to obtain that sweet free-parking validation that all Downtown drivers crave.
To help unravel this conundrum, Ace talked to Bob Stroh, the general manager of the Charlottesville Parking Center. Bob cheerfully explained that, in our magnificent free-market economy, it’s up to local establishments to decide whether they want to pay for the ga-rage’s parking-stamp program. “It’s just like deciding if they want to buy uniforms, or whether they want to use china or paper plates,” he says. And it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, either. “It has a tremendously wide range,” he says. “Everyone has their own distinct code, and we track usage based on that. The range is huge.”
So there’s definitely a monetary calculation involved: Is the price of providing free parking offset by the number of new customers it attracts? Some establishments obviously think not. And there are other considerations, as well. As one of Ace’s nonvalidating, off-the-record sources pointed out, “Our business hours are at night, so there’s plenty of free parking. The meters go off after 6pm, so we really don’t see the need.”
Now, anyone who has at-tempted to find Downtown parking (even for their cute little mouse-car) during Fridays After 5 might disagree with this characterization, but there you go. As a driver, your best bet is to register a firm (but polite) vote for validation with the owner of any nonstamping establishment you frequent. If they think that enough of their customers desire it, they might just change their minds. (Or, in your case, call the Depart-ment of Health.)