Shop owners in historic Newtown Borough want to try a quick and novel fix for a generation-old problem by offering valet parking on its bustling main street in Bucks County.

"I'm not aware of any other town that offers valet parking. It's time to capitalize on it," David Witchell, owner of a salon and spa on State Street and one of two merchants pushing the idea, said last week. "If shoppers know they can pull up and get a map of the business district, business cards and coupons, they'll come."

Under a proposal the Borough Council is considering, customers of the community's 100 or so businesses could drop off their cars in the middle of a block on weekends for a flat fee of $7, freeing up spaces along State Street. The trial would run through the end of the year and then be evaluated.

Witchell and Erica Darragh, general manager of the Temperance House bar and restaurant, came up with the plan after the borough recently leased a lot behind State Street for $1. The lot could provide the 40 spaces needed to make the valet service viable for the Philadelphia-based company that would run it, they said.

Parking along the four-block stretch of State has been an issue for as long as merchants can remember. "I've been here 32 years, and it's been the same problem," said Roy Pugh, co-owner of Newtown Clock Shoppe.

With the economy choking business, the store owners are looking at valet parking as a way to attract and cater to shoppers.

Spaces along State are free but are frequently filled during peak times, even with a two-hour limit. "Valet parking might help alleviate people parking for two hours or longer," said Becky Betz, owner of Becky's Deli.

Police Chief Anthony Wojciechowski said the two-hour limit along State and three-hour limit in the free municipal lots behind the shops and Borough Hall would be enforced more strictly to help ease the parking problem. But Witchell fears $35 parking tickets would drive customers away.

The municipal lots, within a block or two of the stores, are not convenient enough for some shoppers. "They say, 'If I have to go there, I'll go to the mall,' " Pugh said.

And some are in a rush, such as those who have a half-hour to get lunch at the deli, said Betz, who has run Becky's for 21 years.

Betz said she and her husband, Harry, who owns the Newtown Bicycle Shop down the street, are excited about valet parking, which would be available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

"It's unique, cool, and it will draw attention to Newtown," she said.

The borough could become one of only a few towns to offer valet parking for an entire business district.

Winter Park, Fla., has provided free valet parking on its main street for at least three years, through a partnership of businesses and city government, said Craig O'Neil, the city's assistant director of communications. The service handles 900 cars a month.

And a business group in Red Bank, N.J., started a three-month trial in July, offering the service Friday and Saturday nights, with some merchants covering the $10 charge. "It's worked pretty well so far," said Nancy Adams, executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter.

Newtown's police chief is concerned that shoppers waiting to drop off their cars will double park, backing up traffic, and that pedestrians could be at risk.

"I've been police chief for 231/2 years, and there's a strong probability that a bottleneck will happen," Wojciechowski said. With the valet spot in the middle of the block, "pedestrians feel they can cross there instead of at the traffic signals."

The chief said it would be safer to run the valet service in one of the municipal lots. But the valets would lack visibility there, Darragh said.

Borough Council President Julie Woldorf said the plan was "a good idea," so long as the details could be worked out. She scheduled a special council meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday to consider the proposal. The borough's lawyer has drawn up a 15-page agreement, and Newtown Corp., which promotes events in the borough and neighboring Newtown Township, is lined up to sign it and take over the project.

Shopping on State Street, Fred Schultz said the $7 fee "is a little exorbitant, but with coupons or validation it might be a good idea on a trial basis."

Kristen Kern, who has lived in and around Newtown all of her 27 years, said the service might bring people to the borough, but "it will take away from the historic flavor. It's becoming more like Philadelphia instead of a suburb."

Shelly Seligman of Wrightstown said she would "love it for the convenience. That would be a great idea."

The owner of Becky's Deli was more pragmatic.

"It's for four months - why not try it?" Betz asked. "The status quo is just not working."

See a video about bringing valet parking to Newtown Borough at www.philly.com/valetparking

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