A No-Win Downtown Towing Situation - And Response (9)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There has been a lot of media attention lately regarding the towing situation from the private parking lot for the customers of Cheeburger Cheeburger, Genghis Grill and Vaudeville Murder Mystery Dinner Theater at 2nd and Market. I’ve seen several news stories and read articles both in print and online talking about the wrecker fees and the possible impact on visitors to our city. City Council members, the Beer and Wrecker Board, the city attorney and the mayor’s office have all been involved in some way.

Since I am the person who is predominately responsible for having the lion's share or the cars towed, I thought it might be a good idea to address City Council members, the Beer and Wrecker Board, the city attorney, the mayor and all those who have been towed.

As one of the owners of a business located in the building at 2nd and Market I can honestly tell you this is a difficult situation to be in. It’s a no win situation.

I can’t let a neighbor who is four times my size take over my customer parking, and I don’t make new friends by towing their customers' cars.

It wasn’t that long ago our neighbor was a closed car wash with parking that was sometimes attended and sometimes not. Our biggest parking issues were with the employees of other local restaurants trying to take advantage of the only “free” parking around. Employees from other restaurants such as Big River, Fridays, Hennens, Blue Plate, Mellow Mushroom, Blue Water and others have all been guilty of parking in our lot. Rather than pick up the phone and have them towed, I personally delivered letters to every business within a few blocks and gave them ample warning. Once in a while we would tow a few and the word would quickly spread.

Those were the good old days; now the car wash is gone and my new neighbor is a 240-seat restaurant with about 10 parking spots.

I put up 12 signs in the parking lot that read: WARNING! THIS PARKING LOT IS FOR THE GUESTS OF CHEEBURGER CHEEBURGER, GENGHIS GRILL, VAUDEVILLE MURDER MYSTERY DINNER THEATER. THIS LOT IS MONITORED 24 HOURS A DAY. UNAUTHORIZED VEHICLES WILL BE TOWED. THIS POLICY IS STRICTLY ENFORCED. FEES ARE AS FOLLOWS: BEFORE 5:00 P.M. $175.00 AFTER 5:00 P.M. AND WEEKENDS $250.00. THINK IT OVER BEFORE YOU PARK HERE. WE AREN'T PLAYING, YOU’LL BE PAYING!

Sounds pretty darn clear to me.
Perhaps $250 is exorbitant - that is for City Council to decide. But the decision to tow those who choose to ignore the signs is mine and I stand by it. I have an obligation to protect my customers, my family and those who are dependent on my restaurant for their livelihood. I will continue to tow those who choose to ignore the signage and roll the dice. As a matter of fact, I intend on towing more.

There has been some discussion on the possible impact of towing and/or fees could have on tourism. It was said we could be “sending the wrong message.” I think the limited amount of free parking available to our guests sent a message a long time ago. Be prepared to pay if you are planning to park in Chattanooga.

Let me be perfectly clear where I stand on towing tourists - I will not knowingly tow an out-of-town visitor. I’m towing locals who read the signs and then walk directly into Buffalo Wild Wings to sit for three hours watching a game and costing me money.
The sad part of this situation is it is avoidable. If Buffalo Wild Wings would warn their customers, they could move their cars, end of story. You can bet I wouldn’t let someone tow my guests.

To all of those who have been towed: sorry about the fee. I don’t set them. But, at the end of the day, there is nobody to blame but yourself. You broke the rules and you knew the possible outcome.

To my customers: come see me, there’s a good chance I’ll be freeing up a space for you soon.

Charlie Eich
Owner Cheeburger Cheeburger

* * *

Sounds like downtown is no place to be. No way would it be worth even looking for a spot to park from how it is described.

It really is a dog-eat-dog world, even in the dining arena in Chattanooga.

Joe Blevins
Guild, Tn.

* * *

Not true, Joe. I’ve been working, eating, and recreating downtown for about 15 years and never once had trouble parking.

There’s almost always street parking no more than four or five blocks from the major destinations, and when I’m taking my wife on a date I sometimes spring the couple of buck it costs to park in the 'huge' Bijou garage right in the middle of everything.

I think the problem is a lot of people don’t want to walk, or are uncomfortable leaving their car on the curb. To each his own.

Clif McCormick
Chattanooga

* * *

I sympathize with the sentiments of Mr. Eich, and applaud him for standing up for himself. Parking has been an issue downtown for years, and it is one that the city of Chattanooga has not attended to recently.

The city has wanted to attract new business and revitalize the area, which they have done and are to be commended for. However, with every new improvement comes growing pains. With new businesses moving in downtown, the parking that downtown has is becoming more and more inadequate. Compound this with Provident moving in a direction of no longer allowing free parking on nights and weekends, and the growing ridiculousness that is Republic Parking and the issue becomes even worse.

I can't say I blame Provident, but at the same token I wish they would lease to someone outside of Republic.

Then there is Republic Parking, which charge for spaces that somehow leave me feeling like they are better places for muggings than parking. If I am going to pay to park, make sure the lots have proper lighting for starters.

I agree with Mr. McCormick for now though. Until things change I will just park on the street and walk. After all, it is probably safer than Republic Parking. Until the city or Republic fix the parking, don't blame local businesses for standing up for what they are paying for. It isn't Mr. Eich's fault people either can't read or choose to ignore his signs.

Greg Petty
Hixson

* * *

It's problems like those listed above that causes me to avoid downtown for anything except for dealing with government agencies. Lack of reasonably priced parking and parking distances keep me from shopping or dining downtown. Why deal with the headache of parking issues when I can find a huge variety of shops and restaurants from Brainerd to East Ridge and a few miles away in North Georgia?

Mr. Eich has every right to tow from his lot. He isn't the only one . Here in Brainerd several business owners have taken similar measures for various reasons. And for the ones whining and crying about being towed, you were warned before you left your vehicle.

Aulcie Smith
gene_rose01@comcast.net

* * *

Mr. Eich,
Thanks for a thoughtful and honest explanation of exactly what you are up against. On one hand it could be called a no-win situation, but to me it seems like you have bent over backwards to make sure anybody parking in your lot should be there for a great cheeseburger and not wild wings. Twelve signs with towing costs listed seems more than fair to me, anyway. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.

I've been coming to downtown for the last 30 years and have never been towed. We usually park on the street or in the Bijou garage, pay our money and enjoy ourselves. I have also been to Cheeburger Cheeburger plenty of times and have usually parked in your lot, or failing that, within a block or two. I figure if I walk a few extra blocks, I can eat a few more onion rings.

When downtown was deserted and the air was dirty enough to make you sick, parking wasn't a problem. I'm glad those were the olden days.

Wes Ellis
East Ridge

* * *

For me, this is just another case in point of putting the cart before the horse. Before you allow a large restaurant or (any) organization to build in a location, you should do all the leg work and answer all the questions. "Such as" where are these people going to park. This has been an issue for several years and should have been looked at before continuing to build in the area. I applaud Mr. Eich for standing up for his rights, because he is one of the few that is willing to have free parking offered to his customers. The local employers need to develop a parking scheme for their employees and if necessary provide a courier service for them and their customers if necessary. Its not only this location that is.

Russell Crump
Chattanooga

* * *

Charlie,
I read your post and I must say that I agree with you 100%. Being one of the individuals that have been towed from your lot, I know firsthand also how the person being towed feels. I personally think that it also has a lot to do with the towing company.

My experience with All About Towing was a horrible one. Predatory towing is a major issue in Chattanooga and is widely known. I personally contacted the City Council in reference to my incident while parking in your lot. I’m just thankful that you handled the situation for me, as a business owner should.

I pray for the success of your business and know you to be a hard working business owner who also has a vested interest in who’s parking in the lot. I also understand that having a competitor next door competing with you is also another factor. Again, I wish you all the best and pray that other business owners will become as customer oriented as you were with me. First class establishment.

Dr. Jerome T. Rogan

* * *

This issue is not with the property owner towing vehicles off their lot which shouldn’t be there. Most people would agree it’s their right to do so. The issue is the fact the for-profit towing companies are charging extreme fees. Towing companies are not the police or government. It is not their job to punish the vehicle owners and levy a huge ‘fine’ against them. It’s only their job to remove the vehicle and release it back the owner for a reasonable charge. What they are charging is not reasonable.

My father recently paid a local company $75.00 on a Sunday to pick up a disabled vehicle on the side of I-75 in East Ridge and brought it to a repair center on Hwy 58 towards Harrison. Pretty good distance and this charge I thought was reasonable. Why the local government can’t get this regulated without loop holes is beyond me. Another example of ignorant leadership in this city.

Erik Benson

* * *

I would have to say that I agree with the gentleman from CheeBurger CheeBurger. If the parking area is clearly marked in regards to unauthorized parking vehicles will be towed, that is fine by me, and I just paid a $250 ( $185 tow and $65 service fee) tow bill 4 weeks ago while attending a UTC football game. But if the lot is not clearly marked or marked at all then I have a problem with that.

But my biggest complaint is that $250 dollar tow fees are ridiculous, and I consider price gouging. Four to five years ago we as a group of citizens were up in arms over gas prices going to $4.00 per gallon and some station in the area charged as much as $6.00 and $7.00 per gallon; those stations and owners were fined and some arrested. Why did the stations charge that much, because they thought they could. The same applies to some of the wrecker services in the Chattanooga area; they charge $250 because they can. I asked the gentleman at United Towing after he towed my car what the cost would be if I had called for a tow due to car malfunction or a wreck and the gentleman stated “$65 to $125 depending on the distance and what equipment would be needed to remove your car.” The towing distance for a $65 tow would be within a 5 mile radius of the impound lot is what he stated. I was only 2.1 miles but again he can charge whatever he wants because it is not regulated. That is what I am asking from the City Council and the Beer and Wrecker board, please reduce the amount and set fees that are in accordance with other cities in our state and area. Also please require that signage must be present and clearly visibly at each parking spot or at each entrance point in the parking lot and not some sign in the window of a store that is not visible to anyone except the person that parked right in front of the sign.

Gerald Clayton


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