As Souper Jenny leaves Decatur for good, city leaders simmer over parking complaints
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This story has been updated.
When Souper Jenny announced this past summer that it was closing its downtown Decatur location, the owner held out hope it could relocate nearby.
Atlanta Magazine reports that owner Jenny Levison has given up on that idea and will close the Decatur location for good on Saturday, Feb. 23.
The reason for her departure?
“Parking was our biggest issue,” she told Atlanta Magazine. “When we first moved in, street parking was free. Now it’s all metered. All of our customers complain about it. We’ve noticed a steady decrease in foot traffic over the years.”
Souper Jenny opened in 2014. Decaturish reached out to the city to confirm if street parking was free when Souper Jenny opened. Mayor Patti Garrett said as long as she’s been in Decatur there has been metered street parking downtown. Garrett moved to Decatur in 2001.
Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne, who oversees economic development for the city, said street parking has been metered for as long as she can remember.
“On-street parking has been metered since I came to work in Decatur in the early 1980s and I believe it was in place decades before that,” Menne said.
Rents are also increasing and Souper Jenny’s lease was ending, Levison said.
“It seemed like it was time,” she told Atlanta Magazine.
She will open a new location in Roswell next month.
To read the full interview, click here.
Decaturish left a message with Levison seeking comment.
The latest complaint about parking from a departing business owner comes as city leaders are pushing back against the perception that there’s not enough parking in Decatur.
Garrett said Souper Jenny will be missed.
“I’m really sorry to see them leave,” Garrett said. “There is a parking garage right next to it. I don’t know if people were aware. Everybody loves their soup. We will miss them.”
Levison is not the only business owner to complain that lack of parking forced them to close up shop.
Owner Robin DeVos, who also owns a location in Jackson, Miss., said a lack of parking in Decatur was a challenge.
“I think people loved our food and we certainly loved our customers,” DeVos said. “Unfortunately, parking is a big issue. Nothing new there. We just did not have enough business to pay the bills.”
The store replaced Sawicki’s, a sandwich shop that closed in 2016. When that shop closed, the owner also said parking was a factor in her decision. Twist ‘n’ Scoot left the city in 2014 for the same reason.
Decatur has a combination of metered on-street parking and paid lots. Some local businesses validate parking at nearby parking decks. Aggressive booting at free lots that serve businesses in downtown Decatur has deterred people who would use them to park and walk to other businesses in downtown Decatur. The booting became so aggressive that the Decatur City Commission in 2016 had to step in and pass new regulations to curtail some of the more predatory parking enforcement practices.
The Decatur City Commission last year approved a parking management agreement with SP Plus Corporation as part of a plan to increase the cost of on-street parking to $3 an hour and extend enforcement hours.
Menne has said the goal of increasing the rates isn’t to punish people or generate more money for the city.
“It’s about encouraging and making sure we have parking spaces available,” she said.
The city of Decatur has a parking guide on its website, which you can read by clicking here.
Behind the scenes, city leaders have been grumbling about the parking complaints. Mayor Garrett took time in her recent State of the City Speech to note that Decatur has more than 10,000 parking spaces.
A few days before that speech, Garret and her fellow City Commissioners met two hours away at their annual retreat in Young Harris, Ga. to discuss a number of topics, including a parking survey that was the basis for Garrett’s remarks about parking during her State of the City address.
City Planning Director Angela Threadgill provided commissioners with a parking survey conducted in 2009 and updated in 2017 and presented to the city in January of 2018.
The report found that in 2017, Decatur had 10,532 spaces in parking lots and decks throughout the city and 679 on street parking spaces.
In 2009, the city had 8,885 spaces in lots and decks and over 300 on-street spaces.
The report suggested the city implement “smart parking technology” and use apps to help people find spaces in the city.
“We haven’t decreased parking spaces,” Threadgill told the City Commission. “We have gained them.”
To read the parking survey, click here.
Menne said during the retreat the city wants to educate people about where parking is located and is considering adding the city’s conference center parking deck as another parking option.
“It’s changing the narrative to help people understand: this isn’t about generating revenue,” Menne said. “It’s about managing parking. We have plenty of parking. We just have to make it easy for you to find it.”
Menne said booting is also something that continues to generate complaints, but she said property owners need booting companies to keep free lots free for the businesses they serve.
“If everybody did the right thing, we wouldn’t need to boot,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said the parking situation is a disadvantage to senior citizens who may not be able to walk from their neighborhood to downtown. He said the city is often asked about creating discounted rates for seniors.
During the retreat, Powers said he is frustrated that business owners blame parking when they are surrounded by a plethora of parking options.
“Clearly we don’t have a lack of parking issue,” Powers said, saying business owners choose to blame parking to cover up for other failures. “If I have a failing business for whatever reason, I’m going to blame it on the simplest thing.”
On Thursday, Feb. 21, Powers said he was speaking as a business owner. Powers is the co-owner of Intown Ace Hardware.
“That was me not throwing stones at them, but as a 34 year business owner, there are things that are internal,” Powers said, providing more context for his remarks during the retreat. “… When our sales flip, the first thing we want to know is what are we doing wrong? I get it when rents are high and that’s something you can’t control, but the parking didn’t change from the day Souper Jenny opened. Nothing changed. We didn’t take parking away. So what else is happening? I think it’s a convenient thing to say.”