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DENVER -- Several restaurant owners say the new parking fees at Cherry Creek Shopping Center are killing their business and affecting their health.
Nick Gourian, of Fresh Healthy Café, told Denver7 that the financial squeeze is so bad, they’ve sent letters to Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock asking for help.
“We’ve felt a real impact from this (parking) policy that we’ve had no say in,” Gourian said. “We feel it’s important for local officials to understand how this has affected small businesses.”
Kelly Shearer, a customer at Fresh Healthy Café, said the parking fees make shopping at the mall “less enticing.”
“I find myself going to other areas of town to shop,” she said, “or shopping online a little more often.”
Shearer said it’s the principal of paying to shop that she disagrees with, “when in the past, it was free.”
Gourian said his business was down 33 percent in February, and is down close to 40 percent so far in March.
Chris Rentzios, owner of Renzios Greek Food, said his business is down 40 to 45 percent, and that he's watching his restaurant die a slow death.
“A lot of us have anxiety and health issues,” he said. “It’s a life changing impact on my life.”
Rentzios said he’s now using personal funds, not business income, to pay his rent.
“It’s just not sustainable,” Gourian said.
Food court affected disproportionately
Both Gourian and Rentzios said everyone in the mall is affected, but the food court is affected disproportionately.
“No one comes to the mall primarily to eat,” Rentzios said. “They come here to shop, and if they have time afterwards, they’ll have a bite to eat.”
Gourian said that changed when the parking fees went into effect.
“People who would have had the time to sit down and have a bite or a smoothy at our place, they’re watching the clock, and when it gets to 55 minutes, they need to get out the door, or they’re going to have to start paying,” he said.
Gourian told Denver7 that he’s had to cut back staff.
“We had five people working on a shift, now we have three,” he said. “We don’t know how much longer we can keep our doors open.”
Parking decision not taken lightly
Mall Management said previously that the decision to start charging for parking wasn’t taken lightly, that it was a long-term decision based on continued rapid growth in Cherry Creek North and surrounding neighborhoods.
The district north of the mall is booming. The skyline is filled with construction cranes.
Before the mall started charging parking fees, many construction workers, residents and Cherry Creek North employees and customers were parking in the mall’s garages.
Mall management said they wanted to make sure mall customers had a great place to park.
Rentzios said with the new parking fees, there are plenty of places to park, because there are far fewer customers.
Letter to Governor
Rentzios said they reached out to Governor Hickenlooper because he was in the restaurant business before he got into politics.
He said they’re hoping the Governor and Mayor can convince the mall’s owners to work with their tenants.
“We asked for a rent reduction, based on our loss of business,” Rentzios said. “We submitted numbers and said, ‘look at last year and look now,’ and we got a response: Declined.”
When asked about the restaurant owners’ concerns, a shopping center spokesman emailed this statement:
"The Cherry Creek neighborhood continues to experience dynamic growth to the point where limited parking spots are coveted. The result is that the center’s lots were heavily used by customers, but also by those not shopping at the center. Our top priority is to make sure our customers have the best possible experience when they visit. This includes having easy access to parking and the entrance to the mall, so the implementation of this parking program is essential."
“They say in six months, customers will come back,” Rentzios said, “Many of us won’t be here in six months.”