Angry customers. Slumping sales. Lines of cars waiting to exit the garage.
That's how merchants described the atmosphere at Santa Rosa Plaza, nearly one month after the downtown mall began charging customers who park for more than 90 minutes at the shopping center.
Fewer people are hanging out at the mall and killing time, a social activity that used to lead to impulse buying, retailers said. And shoppers feel too rushed to linger over a possible purchase, because they want to get in and out of the mall in less than 90 minutes to avoid paying for parking, they said.
"If nothing changes, I'm not going to be able to pay my rent," said Fahim Adel, owner of Bayside Watch. "I've been here 15 years, I'd love to stay here. I have my son in school."
Since the parking program began, sales at Bayside Watch have dropped 30 to 35 percent on the weekends, and 15 to 20 percent during the week, Adel said.
Under the new policy, enacted Aug. 22, mall visitors enjoy free parking for their first 90 minutes in the garage. Longer visits cost $2 for up to three hours, $4 for three to four hours, $8 for four to six hours and $9 for up to 24 hours.
Plaza officials have said the changes were necessary to free up parking spaces for shoppers. About 400 of the mall's 3,000 spaces were taken by downtown workers, occupying prime parking spots, the mall said.
The majority of shoppers have been able to park for free, mall manager Laura Kozup said in a statement issued by the Plaza's public relations firm. She did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
"We've received many positive comments from both our retailers and our shoppers about the program. We have received feedback that our exit times are longer than desirable, and we are addressing those concerns. We intend to have all improvements made in advance of the holiday season," the statement said.
It's not clear if every retailer was negatively impacted by the decision to charge for parking. Macy's and Sears, which anchor the northern and southern ends of the mall, declined to comment Tuesday.