The Chevy Chase business district has always been known for its neighborly feel: Come here, walk around, shop, get a bite to eat, the atmosphere said. That was before the Parking War.
With two new restaurants opening soon, and nearly every store space occupied around Euclid, parking is at a premium in the once-cordial business neighborhood, and things have gotten a little fraught.
In June, Behr Properties, which built the soon-to-open Bear & the Butcher, sued the current and former owners of John’s Run/Walk Shop over the use of a parking lot adjacent to both properties. That dispute is still in court.
Meanwhile, this summer the parking garage inside Chevy Chase Plaza began charging $4 an hour for parking if you aren’t going to a store or restaurant in the building or to Louie’s Wine Dive across the street on East High Street.
Starbucks coffee-seekers taking their chances by parking at UBS Financial Services on South Ashland Avenue have been surprised to find their cars towed. Athenian Grill, tucked behind UBS, asks customers where they parked before they take their order, just in case.
In the parking lot behind Saratoga Center, security guards may warn you off of parking behind High Street stores if you aren’t going inside Great Clips or Tomo sushi or neighboring shops.
Virtually every business has put up signs that say cars will be towed if you aren’t a customer of that particular business. Sometimes it goes a little further, calling out specific businesses: “WARNING Chevy Chase Inn Customers That Park In This Lot Will Be Towed,” reads one.
That kind of antipathy isn’t unknown. For years, parking in the lot in front of Josie’s, The Oasis, Puccini’s and Liquor Barn Express has been explicitly NOT for customers of Graeter’s and McAlister’s.
Competition for places to park was fierce with several popular restaurants on the block already, including The Beer Trappe, Bourbon n’ Toulouse, Louie’s Wine Dive, McAlister’s, Graeter’s Ice Cream, Charlie Brown’s, Donut Days, and The Sage Rabbit.
Now, a new eatery, Buenos Nachos Mexican Kitchen, is opening above Charlie Brown’s, Honnah-Lee Bubble Tea is opening nearby, Bear & the Butcher will open soon across the street and Domino’s Pizza has added in-store seating.
Melody Marshall, the new owner of John’s Run/Walk Shop and John’s Classic Shoes, said things started to change when Louie’s Wine Dive opened about a year ago.
“It started to get kind of crazy. There is a security guard monitoring behind Great Clips,” she said.
Then this summer, after the parking garage began charging, she noticed a shift in the parking landscape: All the overflow headed her way.
“Once the security guards went in … we no longer had any spaces available during biz hours for customers,” she said. “We were kind of the last ones that said, ‘we have to put up signs, this is private property.’ You’re losing business if our customers don’t have a place to park.”
That put pressure on John’s Classic Shoes to protect its lot on South Ashland Avenue, which she said is used all hours by runners meeting up for runs. And now by the Domino’s Pizza delivery drivers, she said.
In the lawsuit, Behr claims that John Sensenig gave permission for the use of 10 spaces in the lot; he sued after that access was canceled. Marshall and Sensenig allege that Behr was improperly using the parking lot for construction access on the new restaurant.
Tom Behr of Behr Properties declined to comment on the suit.
“It’s unfortunate that Behr’s chose this route,” Marshall said. “Everyone down here gets along, we cross-promote ... the use of lot is extensive. (Parking) in Chevy Chase is a commodity. That’s why we chose to purchase that property.”
Bill Farmer, owner of Farmer’s Jewelry on Euclid, said that parking has been a “positive” issue for a long time and is a sign of strong economic growth.
“We’re what The Summit wants to be,” Farmer said, referring to the newly opened mixed-use retail center at Man o’ War and Nicholasville Road. The area has shops, is walkable and has a mix of restaurants, retail and residential properties.
The only thing the Chevy Chase business district doesn’t have as much of is free parking.
Farmer said when the Chevy Chase Plaza garage across the street from his business began charging what he said customers have called “exorbitant” rates, it “fluffed a lot of people out into the neighborhood.”
Jason Taylor of Equity Property, which manages the garage for Caller Properties, said the rates are market rates, similar to other paid parking around Lexington.
“And if you visit our tenants, it’s free,” Taylor said.
The garage decided to begin collecting for the parking to protect tenants and the plaza businesses, Taylor said.
“The ownerships are trying to protect their interest. Chevy Chase is a very desirable location, very desirable. Parking is considered to be at a premium,” Taylor said. “We’re not telling you you can’t come in, just pay a fee if you’re not going to shop with our tenants.”
Gary Doernberg of the Corner Wine Shop on Euclid said part of the problem is restaurants and bars that have little or no dedicated parking.
“Makes for a very difficult situation,” he said. “I thought everybody’s lease had to provide for some minimal parking amount for their customers. We just keep on opening businesses up here. It’s very tight up here. ... The city taking an interest would be an enormous help. I want them to have to have minimal parking to open.”