EDEN — If Santa needs to park his reindeer and sleigh on Washington Street to pick up a few items in the Olde Leaksville stores, he’d better watch out.

He could find himself in a little storm of controversy.

Merchants who park their own cars in front of their stores have irritated other merchants, who believe the spaces ought to be reserved for customers.

So the Eden Police Department has sent all merchants a letter asking them to park behind their stores, use public parking lots or face getting a ticket for breaking the ordinance limiting parking to two hours.

“For a town that is trying to remake its downtown into a place where we want customers to come and shop ... it’s just mind- boggling,” said Randy Pack, who owns House of Health.

“If it hits right … it could be an entire afternoon when there is no parking spot or only one parking spot open,’’ said Pack, who said he watches four merchants park in front of their stores daily.

Police Chief Gary Benthin said parking has been a problem in the area for 20 or 30 years.

It becomes an issue about every five years, he said.

This week officers hand-delivered letters to merchants, asking them to park off the street and saying the department would consider “enforcement actions” if they did not comply, he said.

Benthin said he was counting on merchants to comply and avoid $10 parking tickets.

Mike Dougherty, business development director for Eden, said the issue arose at a recent merchants’ meeting .

“You don’t want to lose a sale because someone can’t find a place to park,” he said, pointing out that there is public parking behind Dave’s Construction on Bridge Street, as well as behind The Front Porch and Mitchell’s Drugs.

Ken Buccini, owner of The Hair Studio, admits he has parked in front of his store.

“I thought the whole thing was just foolish.

“The merchants need to focus on more important issues,” said Buccini, who has started parking his vehicle in a public lot since he got the letter.

“The comical thing is there is hardly that much traffic to be making that much of a stink,” said Buccini, who estimates his business brings about 70 customers a week to the street who shop at other stores when they are there.

Neither Buccini nor Bobby Gilley, owner of Creative Expressions Florist, said they have gotten any complaints from customers about lack of parking.

But, said Gilley, if merchants “are parking in front of their own doors, they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.”

Contact Carla Bagley at 627-1781, Ext. 120, or cbagley@news-record.com

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