The Classic Cigars and British Goodies store in downtown Frederick is a purveyor of Yorkshire tea, jars of Branston pickles, bangers and other delicacies from her majesty's kingdom.
Lately, however, its owner, expat businessman Joe Cohen, has been peddling something quintessentially American: rebellion against a recent decree that has dramatically increased on-street and off-street parking rates in this city of 50,000 people.
Barely a month after the city doubled meter fees and fines and began urging people to park at Harry Grove Stadium and ride a free shuttle into town, Cohen and some other Market Street merchants are urging repeal of the new parking regulations.
Protest signs have gone up in some stores. And although all members of the Board of Aldermen supported the new policy after years of study, Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty is often singled out as the person who should be held to blame.
"Look at the empty parking spaces," Cohen said, leaning on a statue in front of his store and gesturing to available spots on Market Street. "It's a nightmare for everybody. The whole idea is stupid."
The irony of protest is not lost on a British subject born on the Fourth of July. Nor is he unaware of the irony that the rules were put in place with the encouragement of some businesses with the idea of helping the downtown business district.
But Cohen and others complain that the measures, which took effect July 1, have driven off customers, dug into the wages of low-paid downtown employees and sent the wrong message about revitalizing a city that many shoppers already are happy to bypass for nearby malls.
He also mocked the Downtown Express, a $200,000-a-year city operation that offers free shuttle service from a stadium parking lot on the southern outskirts of the city, to several downtown stops.
"Look how many people are on it!" Cohen said, as a shuttle turned the corner at his shop. "Zip. Zilch. Zero. It's always bloody empty."
Down the street at Gina Packan's Twisted Twill boutique, parking woes are a major reason for Packan's decision to move the store in the fall to the Westview Promenade strip mall outside town, she said. Just last week, she said, she had to pay $10 for a ticket that would have been $5 before the new policy went into effect.
"I've had many a customer get tickets in the loading zone," said Packan, 26, referring to a spot in front of her store that can result in violators receiving a $35 ticket at certain times of the day -- or just about what a pair of Juicy Couture flip-flops costs in her store.
"Mainly, parking is a huge hassle," she said.
Even at City Hall, she would not get much argument.
"We're not strangling any businesses here," said Dougherty, who owns a restaurant and a store in town. She said in an interview that the work of alleviating a chronic parking shortage downtown began with her predecessor. But it was only her administration, she said, that took action after years of dithering.
A study by Desman Associates found that more than 90 percent of the city's 2,251 free and paid parking spaces were full during the average weekday. The study also predicted that the ratio would worsen as new developments went up.
In March 2003, members of the Board of Aldermen agreed unanimously to overhaul the regulations. Tickets for expired meters went from $5 to $10. The vehicles of scofflaws with just five unpaid tickets, instead of 10, could be towed. Meter fees went from 50 cents an hour to $1. Dougherty called the tickets, compared with those in other regional destinations, "not terribly significant."
Alderman David G. Lenhart (R) said he was surprised to hear of a backlash, especially since the city spent a long time working with the business community to develop the plan. And he was willing to consider changes. "If mid-flight course corrections need to be considered, I think that's the role of government."
Lenhart said the policies are symptomatic of a wider problem: Frederick's rapid growth has raised its cost of living. This year, the city imposed a 5-cent property tax increase to balance its budget. Because of that and rising assessments, homeowners are paying 7.5 percent a year more than last year, he said.
Alderman Donna Kuzemchak Ramsburg (D) expressed some exasperation with the opponents, wondering why they had not made their voices heard while the city debated the policies.
Until they went into effect, city officials said, most of the on-street parking was taken up by business employees who fed the meters, while the city's Church Street parking deck -- the most central of three -- often was full. Right now, the city is in Circuit Court condemnation proceedings to acquire land for a fourth parking deck on the site of the Delphey Property on West Patrick Street. Dougherty also said the shuttle, which carries about 60 people a day, has been more successful than she imagined.
"As far as I can tell, it's working," said Philip Bowers, who owns three downtown restaurants and is president of the Downtown Frederick Partnership. Bowers said the overhaul was geared toward freeing up on-street, short-term parking by forcing employees of the city and local businesses to park elsewhere. Extensive study by a task force and a consultant found that unless there were changes, those employees would continue to monopolize on-street parking that should be available for tourists, shoppers and diners.
"I see parking now on the street, which is a boon for merchants. Because there's always been a perception that it's impossible to park in downtown Frederick," he said.
Across the street, however, Gurdip Singh Panwar, manager of Bombay Grill, estimated that business has fallen off 10 percent to 15 percent. Diners on tight budgets who come for the restaurant's buffet complain about having to shell out $4 for a meter, he said.
Serdar Euzun, 27, a server who lives in Frederick, said he parks farther away in residential areas because the parking deck rates have risen. It used to be possible to leave the car until 6 p.m., when it cost $1 to exit. If one left sooner, the hourly rates maxed out at $5. Now the deck charges the hourly rate until 9 p.m., with a maximum of $7.
That sum amounts to an hour's work for Jaime Sheppard, 17, a resident of Urbana who works behind the counter at the Candy Kitchen on Market Street, she said.
Sharon Mesa, owner of En Masse flower shop, said she fears she will have to raise prices to stay in business and talks about voting the current mayor and Board of Aldermen out of office. Mesa, who printed up signs calling for the repeal of the parking regulation, said she knows of four other stores that are considering moving from downtown because of the new parking rules.
"People run right out of the store in the middle of transactions and say, "Oh, my God! I've got to feed the parking meter," said Mesa, 53, who lives in Germantown. She said riding the shuttle is out of the question because she worries that she wouldn't be able to run errands for the business or respond to any emergency.
Mesa, who said she has had to purchase monthly parking passes at the city-owned garage for her workers to soften the blow for them, drew up a cartoon of Mayor Dougherty.
In it, Herhonor says: "Welcome to Frederick -- Now get out!' "