New controlled parking systems - complete with "ticket spitter" machines and manned toil booths - are drawing angry reactions from some longtime customers at the Woodward and Lothrop and Lord and Taylor department stores at Wisconsin and Western Avenues in Chevy Chase.
"Tell 'em to go to H," one woman customer barked to a reporter in Woodie's parking lot. "I hate it. I'm thinking of never shopping here again." But other customers took a milder view and said they found the new parking regulations had opened up more spaces than usual.
Parking has been free at Woodie's since it was built in 1950 and at Lord and Taylor since it opened in 1964. Now parking is free for only the first two hours. The limited parking plans were initiated soon after the November opening of the nearby Mazza Galerie, which houses Nieman-Marcus and charges for parking in its underground garage after the first two hours.
Spokesmen for both Woodie's and Lord and Taylor concede that the Mazza Gallerie system finally forced them to begin similar systems.
"But we probably would have had to do it sooner or later anyway," said Woodward & Lothrop vice president Thomas Pritchett, citing the heavy use of parking lots by commuters, workers in nearby office buildings and apartment residents.
"Even the employees at Nieman-Marcus (who must pay to park in the Mazza Gallerie garage) were using our lot," a Woodie's employee said.
Even though the new system has drawn damnation and praise, one question is still unanswered. Store officials said they could not estimate the effect the system has had on sales.
Pritchett said he actually received more complants before the store starting the new system, primarily because customers could not find parking places. "We're getting more positive reactions now. Whenever we make a change, it's bad news until people get used to it."
But customers still have their complaints.
"What bothers me are the logistics," Mary Barry of northwest Washington said about Woodie's lot, which includes a complex of islands and one-way lanes to control traffic flow past ticket machines and toll booths. "It's impossible to maneuver a big car around the islands and you have to make a swing of more than 45 degrees to come down to the lower level. They really foiled up on the design."
A customer from Bethesda had a different complaint. "I just spent over $450 and now I have to pay for parking," she said. "My neighbors all hate it - they won't come here anymore."
Some customers say they like the new setup. Col. James O'Hara of Washington thought it was "fine, it's free (for two hours." The stores are just protecting themselves."
Another customer said she found the system confusing, but conceded it was "the first time during the Christmas season that I've found a parking lot so close to the door."
Several people blamed the parking changes on Nieman-Marcus, which only rents space to the Mazza Gallerie building.
A spokesman for the HSL-DC Corp., owner of the building, said the parking system was part of the initial planning for the Gallerie. "The economic planning of the whole area dictated that there be controlled parking from the first day the project (the Gallerie) was envisioned," the spokesman said.
Space is limited, he said, unlike "regional shopping centers which are built on large acreage lots, traditionally vacant land, where you can put lots of free parking."
The spokesman added that the real crunch will come when Metro opens its subway station at Wisconsin and Western Avenues. "We have to plan for that," he said.
A representative from Lord and Taylor in New York defended the plan, saying it was designed to serve customers better. "We're trying to give our customers better service by keeping out people who aren't shopping but who take up the spaces."
Both Woodie's and Lord and Taylor said they are lenient about parking regulations. Patrons going to the hairdresser or to the stores' restaurants often are allowed more than the two-hour limit. Tony Harriman, general manager of Nieman-Marcus, said the same policy will be in effect when the store open its restaurant next summer.
Parking rates at Woodward and Lothrop's, on the Maryland side of Western Avenue, are 50 cents an hour with a $2.50 maximum. Lord and Taylor and the Mazza Gallerie, on the District side, charge 55 cents with a $2.80 maximum. Customers do not have to buy anything, but must have their tickets validated at each store. (Woodie's has set up stamping machines near store entrances so customers can do their own validating).
Meanwhile, Saks Fifth Avenue and the Chevy Chase Center, both on the northeast corner of Wisconsin and Western, still offter free parking in their separate lots.
Gavin Farr, vice president of the Chevy Chase Land Co. which operates the Chevy Chase Center, said the company is policing its lots to keep commuters out and in the meantime is "watching the situation."
"We have lots of parking," Saks general manager Robert Fleischman said, although he conceded that Saks has gotten some overflow of people who used to park in Woodie's and Lord and Taylor. Saks has no plans for controlled parking in the immediate future, he said, "but if the Chevy Chase Center lot falls, then we may have to go, too."