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.
But the vast majority of retailers interviewed this week reported declines in traffic or revenues, and increases in customer complaints.
Employees at national chain stores reported drops in business around 20 to 30 percent since the new parking program began. The employees, who mostly spoke on condition of anonymity because they were concerned about retribution, said their regional managers have been calling and asking why they're not making their numbers.
"They (shoppers) say they have to be in a rush all the time, and they can't do the shopping the way they used to, because they don't want to pay for parking," said Jasmine Ballesteros, assistant manager at Gap Kids.
"It's not so much the money, it's the hassle," said Dan Pengra, 61, an engineer at Agilent Technologies. "I don't care how convenient they say they're making it, it's a hassle."
Some shoppers noticed an increase in available parking spaces on the ground floor, like Jeanne Peterson, 74 of Santa Rosa, who was getting a manicure at Elegant Nails.
"I don't really think it has had such a terrible impact," Peterson said. "It's easier to park than it was before."