Every Wednesday evening, trivia king Barry Kaufman begins his hunt for a parking spot near Capt. Woody's in the Promenade. His brain game begins at 7 p.m. and before he can start, he has to haul two large speakers, a PA sound system and a backpack full of cables to the second floor of the popular restaurant.
The hunt is not always a success.
"I'm usually rolling in there at 6:30 and there are no parking spots anywhere on that whole grassy area or in the lanes behind the apartments," Kaufman said. "And there are people parked up and down the fire lane, blocking the residents' walkways."
Parking down May River Road is not a solution for him because he still has to get the gear in and out of his vehicle, not a particularly easy thing when he was in therapy for his shoulder.
What he does now is pull up to Capt. Woody's, dump his gear and park wherever he can.
"I don't know exactly how many people have to point out the problem before something changes," he said. "It seems as if there is almost nothing that can be done at this point. I'm not saying the town hasn't done all it can do, but from the ground up the Promenade should have been built with parking included."
Next door at Local Pie, a wood-fired pizza restaurant, assistant general manager Justin Overbeck said parking is a challenge.
"Some parking does open up with the dinner hour trade-off," said Overbeck, but it's not easy. When the doctors, dentists and retail stores close, those spaces are open for customers. Still, many of his guests get dropped off and the driver then goes in search of somewhere else to park.
Daytime businesses, however, have an on-going issue with finding parking places for their employees, let alone their patients and clients. Dr. Catherine Darling, who owns Darling Eye Center near the Dr. Mellichamp Road end of the Promenade, said in order to free up spaces for patients, she asked her four employees to park in the lot at the M.C. Riley Sport Complex up DuBois Road.
"One of them got their window broken in and some things stolen and then I had to replace that because I asked them to park there," Darling said.
She has given up fighting the parking issues and is moving her Bluffton office from the Promenade, where it has been since 2000, to Bluffton Village across from the Post Office.
"What kind of sealed the deal for me was I had a woman patient with walker. She had to park near Fat Patty's [a restaurant near the corner of Bluffton Road and May River Road] and she walked all the way here with her walker," said Darling. "She said, 'You know, Dr. Darling, I love you but I can't find parking and I can't walk all this way.' It's really quite a problem for anyone who does retail and patient care and some of my patients are quite elderly and they can't walk a mile and a half. So I decided instead of complaining about it I'd move."
At Bluffton BBQ, owner and pitmaster Ted Huffman has seen the problem and watched it grow. On the counter next to a jug of pickles and his business cards is another rack of cards: "Parking Problem in Bluffton?"
Printed on each card are phone numbers and emails of the town's elected officials so those interested a destination for their concerns, complaints and - Huffman and others hope - solutions to the growing problems resulting from Bluffton's growth boom.
"We're as busy as we can be because of the lack of parking. If I had 20 more customers, that would mean more hospitality tax coming into the town." Huffman said. "The same goes for everyone here."
The former town councilman is planning on running for office again to try to get the town back on the what he considers a road to expanding parking options rather than putting "good money after bad," such as paying to borrow nearby church parking lots as available extra parking.
"My fear is the growth we had has reached a plateau and we've grown as much as we will," he said. "Parking is the solution for the growth in Old Town."
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.
VALET SERVICE STRIVES TO ALLEVIATE PROMENADE PARKING PROBLEMS
By Lynne Cope Hummell
There is nothing like a pleasant walk after a delightful dinner, but for some Promenade guests, the hike is on both ends of the meal.
In response to the shortage of parking and the popularity of the Old Town destination, Christian Cerame, owner and operator, created Palmetto Valet, and offers licensed and insured valet parking from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
"I used to valet cars when I was a student at Carolina," Cerame said. "I saw an opportunity and a need to start a valet business here in the Lowcountry, so I took the necessary steps to get my business started."
The local entrepreneur and his staff meet guests immediately across from Capt. Woody's and drive their vehicles to a nearby private parking lot.
Valet parking is $10, but complimentary when dining at select partner restaurants.
Leave the keys in the hands of Palmetto Valet and save the stroll for a post-dinner walk around the Promenade. For more information, call 336-260-9722 or email palmetto email@example.com.