A few years ago our city decided to install parking meters at the curbs on all the main streets in the downtown shopping district. I paid it little attention until my wife started ranting about it at dinner. She is one of those folks who adore visiting the boutiques and stores downtown and has to do so at least once every few weeks. The thought of paying to park for a fixed period was anathema to her, especially since it put a limit on the time she’d have free to browse around shelves, look at cloth and negotiate with the salespeople.
But I had no idea how irked she was about this new policy until some friends left texts saying they were ready to join her. “Join her with what?” I wondered. Then she told me she decided to protest the new parking policy by not shopping at her usual haunts; instead she would shop online. She started checking out Kohl’s to find items she’d ordinarily look for at the stores down on Main Street. Soon all the folks on our block had accounts with Kohl’s, and most were busily letting others know what the latest deals and sales were being offered. Even our neighbors who worked downtown would join them and share information comparing the prices between those listed at the stores in town compared with the deals one could get when using a Groupon coupon or promo code to buy the same or a comparable item on the Kohl’s websites.
Well you know what this led to. It didn’t take long for this unannounced “boycott” of the city’s downtown to become a political issue. The first response was naturally a push to remove the meters. But others replied with an interesting alternative; they got the city to begin operating a “downtown shoppers shuttle” that ran through downtown every few minutes. And it worked. Now downtown is much more attractive and pleasant. And folks enjoy the “walking” atmosphere. The only loser in the experience were the parking meters; they earned so little that the city abandoned them. Now there’s no parking at all; instead streets are lined with benches, tables and trees. When folks aren’t shopping online or downtown they’re riding the shuttle or strolling through the pedestrian-friendly commercial center. A boycott of downtown ultimately made it the place for people to be.