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Retailers rue parking on Austin St.

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The parking situation only weakens their chances to draw customers, they say, in the constant tug-of-war between storefront retailers and mall conglomerates such as Queens Center with its convenient multi-level garages."Why should I come to Austin Street or use any meters when I could go to the mall and pay $3 and know I won't get a ticket?," said Udi Maor, owner of the apparel shop, Blue Elephant, on 71st Road.He then quickly added: "I don't mind the meters themselves, just the way they enforce it."Maor, who has run his business that corners Austin Street for 12 years, said he sees a steady cycle of four or five traffic officers ready to ticket any car that overstayed its welcome by a minute.Such hawkish policing makes shoppers feel hurried, preoccupied with whether their meter has expired during the allotted two-hour limit -- not an encouraging incentive for those looking to browse the clothes racks or enjoy a relaxing meal, according to business owners.Many question the harm in allowing a five-minute grace period for people whose doctor's appointment ran long or whose watches were slow.Mark Pine, 28-year owner of Instant Replay at 72-20 Austin St., went so far as to suggest banning all meters, creating one uniform parking tax and "let people have some freedom."But Maor and others insist the meters are essential to prevent people from leaving their cars parked all day. Maor recalls several years ago when all-day parking was common and residents from Long Island would drive into Forest Hills, park, then travel to the city by subway."We don't want our shopping area here to be a parking lot for Manhattan," he explained.The meter issue has come under political debate recently with new legislation introduced by the City Council that would eliminate metered parking on Sundays.In the forefront are Bronx mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer and the bill's author, Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), both of whom insist that feeding meters on Sunday creates an unfair tax for churchgoers.That may go for weekend shoppers as well."It's a complicated issue," said Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce. "For one, (meters are) good for turnover so new customers can park. But it's also hard on them. If you're getting your hair done and a manicure, for example, you can't always get back to the meter in time."Compounding this problem, she said, was the confusion over where parking was permitted on certain sections of Austin Street between Continental Avenue and Ascan Avenue, which has caused many customers' cars to be ticketed and towed. "Once he gets towed that person tells 100 others it's too risky to park on that street. Because of that, we're losing customers to Long Island," said Barry Rothenburg, whose WLP Realty company is the landlord for the property that includes the Austin Street retail stores, Sephora and Banana Republic.Brown said she has requested that the city paint these ambiguous sections, located at crosswalks on the street's south side, yellow to inform drivers to steer clear.Other merchants simply accept the overcrowded parking as a part of urban life."This is New York City. If we eliminate meters, we get in debt," said John Xzrakias, owner of Austin House Restaurant. "How about we stop building 27-story buildings and put up a parking garage of our own instead?" Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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