On Feb. 28 the Morning Sentinel published a letter from Cathy Weeks expressing her concern about impact of the downtown “revitalization” efforts on parking in the Concourse and the negative effects for various businesses there, particularly the Yardgoods Center (“Waterville has a shining jewel”).

As a resident of Waterville — and an employee of Colby College — for nearly 30 years, and as someone who feels strongly about my community and the local businesses that have been of central importance to my quality of life here, I share these concerns.

I am certain that many of the Yardgoods Center’s customers, like me, love spending time in this warm and welcoming store, with its congenial and professional staff and its abundance of high-quality and beautiful goods for sale. I, for one, much prefer shopping for my knitting supplies in person, just minutes from my home; I get so much joy out of exploring the various yarns and other necessary items up close rather than searching the internet for items I can only see electronically.

As Weeks noted, however, many of the store’s customers — many of them older and physically challenged local residents— also come to the Yardgoods Center for classes in the timeless arts of knitting, crocheting and sewing — classes that extend beyond the now maximum allowed parking period of two hours. These days they find themselves routinely getting parking tickets, which are not only a bother but also, for many I suspect, unaffordable. At the same time, some have noted that cars with Colby stickers are not getting tickets. Can this really be true? If it is, as a person with such a sticker in my car, I am embarrassed.

The other day I was chatting with one of the store’s employees, who indicated that creative efforts by the store’s owners and other employees to work out resolutions to this troubling situation have been ignored by those in the position to do something to help. (How about extended parking for the store’s student-customers? How about special parking passes for them?)

More grimly, the employee noted, “When our customers are ticketed but other vehicles in the lot, also parked for more than two hours, are not, we start to feel like someone wants Yardgoods Center out of town or out of business.”

This comment made me think about the phrase “revitalization,” which we’ve been hearing for several years now in connection with the changes that are underway downtown. To me, the term “revitalization” means “bringing new vitality or life” to something. But do other things — especially healthy, widely cherished things — need to be killed off in the process?

With my friend at the Yardgoods Center, I worry that the end game of this “revitalization” is actually to kill off entities that somehow don’t fit a model that the “revitalizers” have devised, regardless of how much such entities — like a family-owned and much-loved landmark business that supports not just avid knitters like me but the families of half a dozen people who work there — mean to those who live here year-round and call Waterville home.

Indeed, several businesses that have been anchors for me personally over the years — Berry’s, Attitudes — have already moved away. How many more will go, or just give up? Is this what “revitalization” has to look like, or are we really talking about gentrification, with all its negative implications, such as community displacement, particularly the displacement lower-income people, the elderly, etc.?

In this regard, I admit that the phrase “boutique hotel” (“Colby College names architect, manager for Waterville’s future downtown hotel-restaurant,” March 8) sets my teeth on edge, given what it implies about planned exclusivity. Who will really benefit from all of these supposedly “revitalizing” changes? I have to wonder.

And what will become of those who don’t benefit? Failing to resolve the serious parking issues now being faced by the Yardgoods Center — my friend there tells me that class attendance has dropped 30 percent since the ticketing of customers has begun — suggests the worst.

 

Elizabeth D. Leonard is a resident of Waterville.


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