The holiday season is a time for giving. And Simon Property Group, the company that owns Santa Rosa Plaza, is giving local shoppers what they really want this holiday season: Free parking.
The gates to the mall's parking garage in downtown Santa Rosa have been up since Dec. 1, and promotional parking days will continue throughout the holiday season. Mall managers will not say in advance exactly which days parking will be free, but some merchants said they have heard the promotional free parking days will last throughout December.
"It's just kind of a surprise," said Kim Hall, area marketing manager for Simon. "It's a little holiday treat."
The mall sometimes announces the free parking days on its Facebook page, Hall said.
Shopper Luann Ballachey, 63, an executive assistant from Healdsburg, was pleasantly surprised. Ever since the paid parking program began, the devout Macy's shopper has started her shopping trips at Coddingtown Mall. She said she only comes to the Plaza when the Macy's at Coddingtown doesn't have what she wants.
"I know a lot of people, before the holiday season, said they wouldn't shop here because they had to pay for parking," Ballachey said. "So I'm really glad it's free today."
The promotional "Gates Up" days have been a relief to merchants, many of whom reported that sales plummeted after the parking gates were installed.
Burger King in the food court saw its business decline about 20 percent, said Lupe Reyes, assistant manager. Now, business is back to normal.
"We appreciate it when they leave them up," Reyes said. "The clients can take their time. They've got time to eat something."
So far this month, business at Charleys Grilled Subs is up 23 percent compared to the same time last year, said owner Bill Lam. That strong month followed big drops in business after the parking gates were installed, Lam said.