Restaurant's Valet Service Sparks Parking War

Some Clifton Gaslight merchants upset over La Poste

Dec 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Home to many free-spirited bohemians and erudite scholars, Clifton’s Gaslight District is one of the most centralized, eclectic and picturesque neighborhoods Cincinnati has to offer.

It’s distinguished by gas lamps that illuminate side streets, lending to the neighborhood’s romantic ambiance. It’s also widely recognized for the Ludlow Avenue business district, comprised of numerous independent shops, restaurants and bars, as well as a post office, public library, grocery store and movie theater.

These small businesses play a significant role in drawing consistent crowds to the neighborhood. It's ideal for an evening stroll or a fun night out. Another advantage is that the main strip only stretches for approximately three blocks, making it entirely walkable.

But finding a place to park in the Gaslight District has been a major complaint of patrons and business owners alike for many years. Due to the success of Gaslight’s businesses (several of which earned awards in CityBeat’s 2010 Best of Cincinnati issue) and the small proximity that they exist within, available parking spots on Ludlow Avenue and side streets are extremely limited, which often means less business and more frustration for owners like Lisa Storie of Sitwell’s Coffee House.

The conflict flared anew recently when the owners of La Poste Eatery, at the spot of the former Tinks Café, began offering valet parking for their customers upon the restaurant’s opening on Oct. 4. Prior to La Poste’s opening, no business in the Gaslight District offered a valet service, which has resulted in what some patrons consider an unjust seizure of already limited public parking.

The valet parking controversy was triggered when bags were placed over several parking meters in front of La Poste. A valet parking sign was set up to distinguish these spaces from public parking, reducing the number of parking spots frequently used by patrons of Sitwell’s Coffee House, situated adjacent to La Poste.

“I was getting complaints from customers,” says Storie, who has owned and operated Sitwell’s for the past 15 years.

“All day long, every day, no one could park there,” she says. “They were told they couldn’t park there unless they paid $7 for valet. I went through the (official) channels to find out whether (La Poste) had gone through the measures to get permits to do this but they refused to call me back or talk to me in-person.”

Storie admits to removing the bags and laying the valet parking sign down on the sidewalk after multiple attempts to resolve the issue face-to-face with the owners of La Poste.

“That’s when they tried to get me arrested,” she says.

Bryant Phillips, one of four owners of La Poste Eatery, reports that the area used for valet parking drop-off is a preexisting loading zone comprised of two parking spots in front of the restaurant that were originally reserved from 7 a.m.-noon. After corresponding with Cincinnati’s valet parking board, the sign was adjusted to read 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. in order to accommodate their plans for valet parking from 5 p.m.-1 a.m.

“It was the city’s idea to change the sign because Clifton needs valet parking, not just for our customers, but for everyone here,” Phillips says. “The valet is good for anyone in the neighborhood. It’s not just for La Poste.”

Aside from using the designated loading area for valet, Storie reports that cars were being parked by Prestige Valet (the valet service sponsored by La Poste) on side streets instead of a lot, thus monopolizing the public parking available.

“They were parking cars all around the neighborhood,” she says. “I would have no objection if they had a lot, but they didn’t and had no place to take the cars. I tried to resolve it with them, but they wouldn’t compromise.”

Despite the condemnation of some patrons and business owners, Phillips says that La Poste is currently going through the steps necessary to legitimize the restaurant’s plans to offer valet parking.

“It’s just a matter of making sure that we’ve got documentation that proves we’re doing what our permit allows us to do,” he says. “It’s been an exploratory thing for us because we didn’t know exactly what the city needed from us, which turns out to be a letter from the owner of a private lot that states we are allowed to park our cars there. It’s really that simple.”

La Poste’s prospective lot is owned by Clifton United Methodist Church, located at 3416 Clifton Ave. Until this letter of approval is written, La Poste has agreed to cease their valet parking services.

“We’re new to the neighborhood and we’re not here to make any waves,” Phillips says.

Regardless of the conflict, Storie wishes La Poste is successful as a new component of an already thriving community.

“Honestly, I want them to do well,” she says. “They’re a part of the neighborhood and as far as small businesses are concerned, the more the merrier. It makes the community better. I would just like to see them organize a better place to take the cars.”