The battle between Reston Town Center businesses and RTC owner Boston Properties over paid parking appears to be just beginning.
About 50 people, including dozens of representatives from Town Center restaurants and shops, met Monday at Vapiano restaurant to share information, voice their frustrations and continue to work out how they should proceed. They did so as sales at their shops and restaurants continue to dip, as customers have been staying away from the Town Center since paid parking began Jan. 3.
Monday afternoon’s meeting came on a day when Fairfax County Public Schools had not been in session. Yasser Meshki, general manager of Vapiano, said you wouldn’t know that from the lack of customers in his restaurant.
“Every time, when school is off, we’re packed for lunch,” he said. “We make easily, let’s say $3,000. We didn’t make half of that today.”
Meshki’s comments were among numerous that were shared during the hourlong meeting. Aaron Gordon and Aaron Mervis, of Red Velvet Cupcakery and Big Bowl respectively, are organizing the group. One of the goals of Monday’s meeting was to begin the process of assimilating all the upset businesses under one association that can legally stand together against Reston Town Center.
“We’re not necessarily threatening lawsuit, but we are saying that we can explore a few different avenues,” Gordon said. “The first one is going to be to all get under one umbrella, pitch in a little money and then see where it takes us.”
Representatives of law firm Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC, who have not been retained by the group at this time, addressed the crowd and offered some preliminary advice regarding organizing. Gordon and Mervis had company representatives who attended the meeting sign up and show their willingness to join.
Some merchants who spoke during the meeting shared information about how much their sales have dropped from this time last year, with most falling between 10 and 50 percent. Even businesses that appear on the surface to be doing relatively well, such as Potomac River Running, are actually not.
“This weather is fantastic for us, so we’re having much higher sales than we normally would among our eight stores,” said owner Ray Pugsley. “My other seven stores are up between 10 and 50 percent in the last 30 days. This store here is down 4 percent.”
Evan Matz, CEO of World of Beer, said even the customers who are stopping into his restaurant show the effects of paid parking.
“We used to see customers come in with bags after shopping, and they would sit down and have a meal or lunch or a beer or something, but we don’t see those customers come in anymore,” he said. “They’re coming in, doing what they need to do, getting back in their car and leaving right away.”
Concerns about the paid parking are more than just about the cost, the merchants said. They also expressed opinions about the ParkRTC app they say is driving customers away, and about how designated employee parking spots blocks away from stores are causing hardships on their workers, among other issues.
Cliff Hallock, owner of the Ben & Jerry’s on Market Street, said he is extremely concerned about the coming months.
“I’m terrified of what’s going to happen in the future, in terms of lower foot traffic, when things should get busy in [the] March, April, May time frame,” he said. “Close friends of mine are telling me, ‘I’m sorry Cliff, I just don’t go there anymore. I love ya, but we’re not going to go there.'”
Anne Mader, co-owner of The Bike Lane, said she and her husband opened up shop in Reston because of the sense of community. She says that sense is now gone at Reston Town Center.
“Now it’s just disheartening, because it feels so unwelcome. It’s not the Reston community that I grew up in,” said Mader, whose shop is publicly seeking a new home. “It hurts my heart, it makes me sad. I really want to do business here.”