Parking meters ‘killed business,’ president says
A longstanding business in downtown Fort Dodge is closing its doors, and the company’s president said that’s in part because of the presence of parking meters along Central Avenue.
McGregors Furniture & Mattress, 712 Central Ave., has announced the closure of its Fort Dodge store. None of its other five stores in Iowa will be closing.
According to Erin McGregor, president of the company, parking meters directly impacted her business in recent years.
“The city decided to put paid meters downtown and they have completely killed my business over the past couple of years,” McGregor said.
Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich said he didn’t believe that to be true.
“Most people that buy furniture do it after 5 p.m. when you don’t have to pay a meter and you buy your furniture on Saturdays or Sundays when you don’t have to pay a meter,” Bemrich said. “I find it hard to believe the meter has effectively closed her business.”
The listed hours for McGregors are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
McGregor said she has reimbursed customers for their parking tickets.
“I get weekly customers yelling at me because they get tickets out in front of my store while they are shopping,” she said. “I’ve had to even pay for tickets to save sales because I have been threatened if I don’t pay their ticket they are going to cancel their sale with me.”
She added, “That was the beginning of the end for us with downtown.”
Bemrich said Fort Dodge has had new businesses move to the downtown since parking meters were installed. He said new housing in the area could also spur furniture business.
“Those parking meters have been there now for a number of years,” he said. “In that same time frame, we have seen businesses open in the downtown area. We have a housing market that is looking to expand. We have new housing that is slated to be going in in 2017. New housing generally means furniture.”
McGregor said it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Fort Dodge.
“We are really heartbroken about leaving Fort Dodge,” she said. “We don’t want to leave Fort Dodge. We love the city. We love the people. I have an awesome staff in Fort Dodge, but you can’t do business in a downtown when the city doesn’t support the downtown. That’s just my personal opinion.”
She did compliment the city’s efforts in bringing back Main Street Iowa.
“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction to get a Main Street community downtown,” she said. “It’s just too late for McGregors and the city should have thought better about putting paid meters downtown.”
Fort Dodge City Manager David Fierke said he’s surprised to hear that McGregors is closing.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “The parking committee, we never had any correspondence from McGregors saying that the meters were harming their business. It’s really shocking that that’s what hurt them in Fort Dodge.”
Fierke said the parking fund generates about $150,000 in revenue each year.
About $100,000 is used for operational costs, he said.
“We had tons of public input meetings on the meters,” Fierke said. “We did a parking study. It’s been an adjustment to get used to. The benefits of it is that it creates the turnover, so you don’t have employees parking in front of businesses. It keeps the spots open for customers.”
McGregor didn’t rule out the company returning to Fort Dodge in some capacity in the future.
“It’s never out of the realm of possibility,” she said.
McGregors is having a blowout sale beginning Thursday.
The company plans to sell the building. McGregor did not give a timeline on when that will happen.
McGregors has been in business in Fort Dodge since 1974.
Its other stores are located in Marshalltown, Coralville, Ottumwa, Waterloo, and Mason City.