It’s the parking…


main_street010210Pop quiz: What’s the first thing you do if you’re a new business moving into Wakefield Square?

If you answered, “Hire Brian McGrail to go before the Zoning Board and get a waiver from the parking requirements,” you would be correct!

Bonus question: Why do you need a waiver from the requirements for parking?

If you answered, “Ain’t none,” you would be right again, but we’d be forced to subtract points for grammar.

A recent Wakefield Daily Item story about measures that the Economic Development Committee is taking to revitalize Wakefield’s downtown area listed some of the businesses that have vacated the business district of late. None mentioned their reason for leaving except one.

Can you guess what that reason was?

Lack of parking is correct! Have you considered trying out for Jeopardy?

santoros1The Economic Development story chronicled some of the continuing efforts to revitalize the downtown. One is the new Sign Bylaw. The aim of the bylaw is to clean up the hodgepodge of signs deemed “ugly” (such as internally lit models) and replace them with quainter signs, such as bracket-mounted types with goose-neck lighting.

When it comes to compliance, new businesses don’t have much choice. But for grandfathered established merchants, there has not been an enthusiastic rush to spend big bucks to have new signage designed by a local committee. Seeing that, the selectmen assigned another committee, consisting of some of the same individuals who wrote the Sign Bylaw, to “tweak” the regs.

Part of the problem is that Wakefield’s downtown area reflects its working class, industrial roots. Some of its square pegs just weren’t built to fit into the round holes of today’s planners.

Wakefield’s character is changing, no there’s no denying that. We’re no-longer the furniture-building, shoe-making, piano manufacturing immigrant community that we once were. But we’re not Lexington either, although at times that seems to be the unspoken goal.

melrose_main-stAnother community often held up as a model of what Wakefield’s downtown could be is Melrose, with its vibrant business district of tasteful signs and elegant facades.

But in addition to curb appeal, what do thriving downtown business districts like Melrose and Lexington have that Wakefield doesn’t?

If you guessed parking, you would again be correct. Melrose has that large municipal parking lot behind the stores on the west side of Main Street, and smaller lots off the east side. Lexington has similar swathes of off-street municipal parking, albeit metered, behind its downtown stores.

A long-time local resident recently remarked that that when he moved his family here in the early 1960’s, it was in the midst of an ongoing discussion of Wakefield’s downtown parking problem. That discussion has continued, at various levels of intensity, for the ensuing 50 years.

A solution to Wakefield’s parking problem has eluded generations. All of the things that Wakefield has done and is doing in the meantime to revitalize the downtown are worthy and admirable.

But merchants need customers, and customers need a place to leave their cars while they shop. And now MarketStreet looms just across the border in Lynnfield.

I’m guessing parking isn’t going be a problem over there.

[The column originally appeared in the August 1, 2013 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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