To pay or not to pay, that is the question in the Vintage Faire Mall parking lot.
Last weekend the north Modesto mall launched a new paid parking program, called Front & Center Parking, at its busiest entrance facing Sisk Road. The “assisted valet” service has roped off more than 200 spaces in front of the entrance between Forever 21 and J.C. Penney where customers can park all day for $5. But, unlike traditional valet, an attendant only takes your money and you park yourself.
“Over Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays we’re typically at capacity for parking, or close to it,” said Vintage Faire Mall Marketing Manager Annie Amies. “We just wanted to make it more convenient to shoppers who maybe didn’t want to look around the parking lot for spaces. It’s another service and amenity we thought shoppers would enjoy.”
The service launched Aug. 11-12 and was expanded this weekend to include Fridays in addition to Saturdays and Sundays. Six rows, with around 40 spaces each, are roped off on the weekends to create the prime parking area. But the enclosed handicapped and electric vehicle charging spaces remain free of charge.
On Saturday afternoon about 20 cars sat in the mostly empty premium area. A handful of parkers trickled in, while others stopped to ask questions about the service and drove on to find a free space. Amies said Front & Center Parking will run weekends through the end of the year for now. If it proves popular, it could be expanded.
For those who paid to park, the service was all about convenience.
“For today I figured it would be good because it gets packed on the weekends,” said Gustine resident Teresa Souza. “It made things a lot easier.”
Like Souza, Stevenson resident Luis Mancebo parked in the premium spots as a quick way to get in and out of the mall. And, he said, the price was right.
“It’s only $5, so it’s not that much,” he said. “It can be hard to find a parking space, so why not?”
But others, some who pulled in and then out of the premium area, grumbled that the large roped-off section made it harder for everyone else to find a spot.
Merced resident Angelica Hernandez came to Modesto to visit her mother and brought her two children, ages 3 and 5, in strollers to the mall. She was frustrated by the new service
“That’s 200 more people who have to find someplace else to park now,” she said.
With the service running through the always busy holiday season at the mall, it is conceivable that premium parking will pick up in popularity. But for now the paid program is ruffling feathers both inside and out of the mall.
Jeff Klotz mans the RepairAll phone and tablet repair kiosk inside the mall near the premium parking entrance, in front of the Starbucks. He said foot traffic the last two weekends at the entryway, and by extension business at his stand, has been noticeably down — by at least 50 percent.
“This used to be the busiest entrance at the mall and now there are 20 cars parked there,” he complained.
Other nearby store workers also groused about the decrease in customers, most who simply found another entrance to park near. Some argued that a full valet service would work better, allowing for customers to continue to park in front of the entrance while also giving those looking for quick and easy parking an option. Amies said full valet was considered, but the assisted valet was deemed more affordable for shoppers.
More and more malls have begun charging for prime parking places across the country. Last month the trend extended to another Macerich Company mall in New Jersey. There, like at fellow Macerich-owned Vintage Faire, the company has contracted with AmeriPark to provide the service.
Whether the trend will stick in Modesto is up to shoppers. But, given some of the sentiments from on Saturday, it might be a tough sell.
“No way, I wouldn’t use it,” said Modesto resident Celia Baker, who came to the mall with her family. “We’re not the Bay Area.”
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