When the City changed the way it enforced 30-minute zones in downtown Salem in December, by suddenly issuing warnings to businesses who had used the spaces for decades, those businesses felt attacked.

“It reminds me of a child that got its toys taken away,” says Les McIinay, of Anderson McIlnay Florist, a downtown destination since 1958.  McIlnay was referring to the common business sentiment that the enforcement change occurred as a reaction, to and punishment for, the 2013 “No Parking Meter” petition generally supported by downtown establishments.

“Instead of saying, ‘we want downtown to prosper,’ they hurt us,” McIlnay says.  Another business owner, who spoke only if we didn’t print his name, told Salem Weekly that the 30-minute enforcement change came “out of nowhere, because the City wanted to install meters, and many businesses didn’t want that… The basis of this whole thing is retribution.”

Perhaps most frustrating for businesses is that they don’t know the rules for sure.  Neither they, nor Salem Weekly, have been able to get a clear statement of policy from city staff.  Stephen Perkins, co-owner of Cascade Baking Company, was “surprised” at the new enforcement as well, but he now believes that the city may have reversed itself on the matter.  He’s uncertain, because he hasn’t heard anything official.  But he’s been parking in 30-minute spots since the initial December outcry, and has yet to get a ticket.

“The biggest bugaboo,” Perkins says, is that we don’t hear anything from the City.  We didn’t get any warning before the change… some of us just started getting tickets and didn’t know where it came from.”

Perkins hasn’t heard officially that he can now park in the 30-minute spots – but he hasn’t heard otherwise, either.

“I’d just like to know what’s right or wrong,” he says.  “I just wish the City would tell us; are they going to enforce it or not?”

Small downtown businesses may have a few legal options.  It is possible, based on Perkins’ experience, that they may be able to use existing 30-minute parking zones again.  It is clear that they may use nearby alleys, which may be too far for them to carry heavy distances.  They also have the right to use a lesser-known option; acting like larger commercial vehicles and using the street to load and unload – blocking traffic for up to 30-minutes with flashers on, as UPS trucks do.

For this final approach, city code doesn’t  require a logo painted on the vehicle, only an 8 ½” by 11” sign with letters at least 2” high, placed on the dash to identify the business.   Although nothing in city law specifically allows commercial vehicles to park in traffic, a FedEx Salem dispatcher says that 30-minutes is “a golden time that’s been understood for more than 30 years that I’ve been working here.”

Perkins says he’s been parking in the street this way for years, “I can’t afford not to,” but never knows if he may get a ticket because enforcement on this, too, might change.

He expresses the hope of many merchants that the City will communicate better with downtown businesses in the future.  “Officers on the street telling you something, is not the same as a City official giving people an official notice.”