WILKES-BARRE -- A city spokesperson said that for the first time in years, Wilkes-Barre would not be offering free parking downtown during the holidays, and he said it's not because of the city's financial problems. However, shoppers we spoke with aren't buying that, and now businesses owners are scared they're going to take a hit during the holiday.
The wreaths are hanging. The lights have been strung, but something's not so festive about downtown Wilkes-Barre this holiday season.
For the first time in years, there's no free holiday parking.
"I think it's a mistake. If you're shopping and going to the movies and coming back, you have to wonder am I out of time? It only holds so many coins," said Sandra Foy, of Plymouth.
The city typically offers free parking downtown from Black Friday to New Year's. However, a city spokesperson said people take advantage of it, parking their cars for hours and limiting spaces for others.
Downtown shoppers aren't buying that.
"Even if people park for six hours, so what? There's always another place to park," said Foy.
"So you think it's a financial issue?" Newswatch 16 asked.
"Absolutely, like everything in this city," replied Foy. "They're trying to find every way that they can to make some extra money."
Some business owners think that with people paying, there will be more turnover in the parking spots and therefore more foot traffic in their stores. Other business owners think it makes no sense.
"If people are parking to shop, they might be paying for the hour or two hours, and it turns over more spots more frequently," said Lisa Kohut, who owns Ellesse Boutique.
Tom Healey opened Big T's Coney Island Deli on South Main Street this summer. He said free parking's an incentive to bring people downtown. Now he worries he'll lose business.
"We're doing well and we're building a clientele, but I don't want obstacles put in a path to keep me from doing good or doing better than I could be doing," said Healey.
Some business owners had suggestions for a compromise, such as free weekend parking or two-hour parking.
However, it seems the city's made up its mind, at least for this holiday season.