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Some Pittsburgh-area shoppers get free parking for holidays

| Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, 11:38 p.m.
People stand in line waiting for the Sears at South Hills Village to open at 8 pm, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

Circling the edges of a mall parking lot repeatedly to find a spot can turn the jolliest elf into a grinch, but officials in Pittsburgh and some of its suburbs hope that parking perks lure holiday shoppers to their stores.

Pittsburgh Parking Authority offers free parking in its garages on Saturdays, and some suburban business districts are lessening parking meter enforcement to encourage shoppers to visit small-town Main Streets.

Starting Nov. 30 in Sewickley, authorities will stop enforcing meters at 1:30 p.m. on weekdays instead of 5 p.m. Free parking on Saturdays and Sundays will continue.

Earlier in the day, shoppers won't have to worry much if they miss feeding the meters, said Jennifer Markus, vice president at Sewickley's Village Green Partners.

“Our parking tickets are cheaper, too. It's only $5 if you get one,” she said.

In Dormont, parking at street meters will be free from Dec. 18 through Jan. 2. Some parking lot meters will be covered so drivers will know they don't have to pay, said borough manager Jeff Naftal.

Oakmont will extend its two-hour parking limit to three hours in a 60-day trial starting next month, said Summer Tissue at the Oakmont Chamber of Commerce.

“We have all the signs ready to go in,” Tissue said. “We're hoping it happens as soon as possible.”

Mt. Lebanon won't offer free parking for the holidays but will give customers one hour of “amnesty” after their meters expire.

“We want the parking meters to turn over in the business districts so that more people can patronize the stores,” said municipal spokeswoman Susan Morgans. “People should definitely not count on getting the extra hour, but it could be a nice surprise.”

On Saturdays through Dec. 22, Pittsburgh Parking Authority will waive fees at its 11 garages in Downtown, Oakland and Shadyside — forfeiting about $125,000 to $150,000 in revenue, said Executive Director David Onorato.

The city's street meters and the authority's metered parking lots will be free this Saturday, which is dubbed Small Business Saturday in an American Express promotion. The lots, however, will operate as usual during the remainder of the holiday season.

Business owners said free parking provides incentive for shoppers to go someplace other than the malls.

“When you think of ‘Small Business Saturdays,' I think Shadyside exemplifies that,” said Richard Rattner, president of Shadyside Chamber of Commerce. “Shadyside 10 years ago had a rap as someplace it was hard and expensive to park, and I don't think that's the case anymore.”

The chamber will vote on Tuesday on whether to sponsor valet parking along Walnut Street, he said.

While Shadyside will offer free parking in its garage on Bellefonte Street, Squirrel Hill shoppers must pay to park on the streets and at one of five metered lots along Murray, Forbes and Phillips avenues.

Joel Sigal, owner of Little's Shoes on Forbes Avenue, hoped City Council would OK more free parking in December for the meters and surface lots.

“In this neighborhood, those are our garages, basically,” Sigal said.

For those who brave the shopping malls, construction at a couple of them may change parking availability.

At South Hills Village in Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park, construction of a Target store in the former Boscov's space has closed a portion of the mall's parking lot. It won't reopen for the holidays, officials said. Shoppers used to park in the Boscov's lot and go in through a nearby mall entrance, but that entrance also is closed for construction.

“I think that will have an impact on parking here,” said shopper Candi Shearer, 56, of Bethel Park. “That lot pretty much fills up during the holidays.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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