- - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

In the latest sign that the historic district is trying to bounce back from the summer’s devastating flash flood, merchants in Ellicott City are pushing officials to reinstate public parking along Main Street, where roughly 70 on-street spaces are now off limits, reducing foot traffic.

Howard County officials designated the spaces for construction crews after the July 30 flood, but the parking restrictions have stunted economic recovery for local businesses, said Barry Gibson, a Main Street vendor and Ellicott City Partnership board member.

“This has been a hush-hush issue,” he said. “But we as merchants know how detrimental it is to not have nearby parking.”

Mr. Gibson, who owns a 35-year-old gift shop called The Forget-Me-Not Factory, started the petition this month. Several hundred shopkeepers, customers and property owners have signed the appeal, calling on Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman to reopen some Main Street parking spaces to the public.

Six months after the flood, which killed two people and caused millions of dollars in property damage, more than 70 of the 90 affected restaurants and retail shops have reopened. But returning to business as usual in the quaint but crowded shopping district has proved difficult without the convenience of street parking, said Sally Tennant, whose store, Discoveries, is across the street from Mr. Gibson’s.

“This is something that merchants have been asking for, and nothing’s happened,” she said. “On weekends, it’s heartbreaking to see the number of empty spaces that could be turning over. It’s heartbreaking to know what it’s costing us.”

Mr. Gibson said several Main Street store owners have copies of the petition, which will be sent to Mr. Kittleman’s office in the next week.

“We are working on a parking solution that will meet the needs of the residents, businesses and property owners as well as the contractors who continue to rebuild some of the affected businesses,” Mr. Kittleman said in a statement, adding that county officials “hope to announce that plan before the end of the week.”

Multiple surface parking lots around Main Street provide more than 450 spaces in the once-bustling shopping district.

But Ms. Tennant said the majority of those spaces are several blocks uphill from her store, which sits on the east end of the street, close to the Patapsco River.

“The vitality of the town really depends on accessibility, embracing the customer back and making it convenient for them,” she said. “Our customers down here, they’re not going to park up the street and walk down. Some will, but most won’t.”

Aesthetics also have played a part in slowing the historic district’s economic rebound, said Mark Hemmis, who owns the Phoenix Emporium bar and restaurant.

“Without parking on Main Street, Ellicott City looks like it’s closed,” he said. “I want the impression that we’re back open.”

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