Downtown Washington parking lots and garages have taken on a new look. Some have cleaned up, shortened hours and become semi-self park. And some are also empty.
Another victim of the gasoline shortage, area parking lot owners and operators say they are losing between 25 and 40 percent of their business, depending on their clientele. They haven't seen business so bad since the gasoline rationing of World War II, they said.
Some garage owners have laid off workers or used them to clean and paint the garage and do needed repairs. Others shortened hours, excluded summer help and are allowing motorists to park their own cars. Particularly hard hit are garages in areas with a lot of blue collar workers. Those in more white collar sectors are feeling less of a pinch.
Many said they are just operating from day to day because, like the average person as well as the economist they don't know how long the gas shortage will last.
"This lot is the average working man's lot," said the manager of a midtown Washington parking lot that by noon yesterday had filled just 185 of its usual 260 spaces. Around 17th and Pennsylvania NW, where the manager said his company has another lot, "all the garages are full. Pennsylvania Avenue, it's more affluent. Here you have the average secretary, the average cook. You have the average working class people."
On the last Thursday in June, Ted Washabaugh, a manager of the garage at 1416 F St. NW, across from Garfinckel's store, said he first noticed that business dropped between 18 and 20 percent. Two months ago he would have had 577 daily cars, Washabaugh said. Last week he averaged 400.
For some reason, however, business picked up last Friday and then again yesterday, Washabaugh said. He said the increase may be due to increased July gasoline allocations and "an awful lot of people at Garfinckel's have diesel-powered vehicles."
"Business is down over 30 percent," said a spokesman for the Washington Parking Association, which represents 10 parking garages. "There's nothing you can do. People are having their own problems. The last thing they're going to worry about is where to park if they can't drive their automobiles."
None of the dozen parking lot owners and operators interviewed yesterday would cloe their garages, they said. Many of the owners and managers said they expected business to return as the gas panic abates.
But others conceded that they will have to "change with the times" and face the possibility that automobile travel and their industry may never be the same.
One booming sector that has gone bust is parking garages at tourist attractions, said George Cook, vice president and general manager of Colonial Parking Inc., which operates about 75 garages throughout the city.
Colonialhs parking lots at the Smithsonian institution National Air and Space Museum and the wax museum in Southwest have lost about 40 percent in business, Cook said.
"In 25 years we've never had any official layoff," Cook said. "But we're not hiring any summer help in any great numbers." Colonial has curtailed some operating hours.
"Sometimes where we have a manager, a cashier and an attendant, the manager and cashier can run it" when an attendant is on vacation, Cook said.
"People can't have the same reliance on automobiles as they once had," Cook said.
"How's business at Atlantic Garage Inc.'s 37 garages in downtown Washington and Virginia? "Horrendous," said the company's president, Irwin Edlavitch. "Our business is significantly down. About 30 percent."
Atlantic has laid off six of its 100 employes and is closing earlier at some locations, Edlavitch said. Some of Atlantic garages will become "semi-self park," Edlavitch said. "We have to change with the times."
Most of the garages noticed no change in monthly contracts, but Edlavitch said that at his garages, "they're just not renewing contracts, and you can't blame them. I hope something good is going to come of this. There's a blessing in disguise in all crises, but I don't know what its going to be."