No one said shopping was supposed to be cheap. But who would have thought it would take $10 or $15--just to get a new dress past the parking lot?
Valerie Smith of La Canada says she spends at least $15 for parking when out for the day in Beverly Hills and the West Side.
"If you move your car twice you can pay $20," she says.
Manyi Roth figures on $13 to park in Beverly Hills--the price of a ticket from the city's notoriously prompt meter police.
"The sales person runs up to you and says: 'The ticket lady is there!' You run out. But it's already too late," she says.
Some L.A. shoppers vividly recall days of parking in wide expanses, no charge. Free off-street parking can still be found in some areas, but in many of the city's more populous and trendy neighborhoods--especially where stores mingle with office space--it's been decades since car space came without cost or complication.
With no validation, a downtown shopper will pay $1.50 every 20 minutes--$12 maximum--to park at Broadway Plaza; $1.75 every 20 minutes--$17.50 maximum--to browse the boutiques in Arco Plaza.
And as the parking stakes continue to rise, so does the level of sophistication required simply to get in and out of a parking lot.
One shopper at the new Seventh Market Place in Downtown Los Angeles insists: "You practically have to be a Philadelphia lawyer" to figure out how to pay for parking at the mall's "pay-on-foot" stations, which resemble bank automated teller machines. The stations deal in tickets, validation cards and cash--the fee is $12 maximum--for transactions that lead many first-timers directly to the "help" button.
"A lot of people are into gadgets, so they think it's fun," says retail leasing manager Constance Sherer. She says the machines are there to speed up exit lines out of the parking structure.
One lingering belief among shoppers--even in jaded Los Angeles--is that they deserve to park free. This puts some malls in an awkward spot.
When Beverly Center announced last July it would start charging shoppers $1 for the first three hours--eliminating its three-hour-free-parking policy--the mall mysteriously dropped that plan before it ever took effect. Beverly Center marketing director Gayle Kantro says some customers complained about the prospect of paying, but she won't say why the plan was sacked. Only: "The program needs to be reconsidered, and that's what we're doing." Mary Carley, former Bullock's public relations director, says her store was "grateful" for the change of mind.
Some shopping malls charge for parking partly to keep nearby workers from using spaces intended for customers.
"The idea is to create a 100%-free system for customers, while keeping office tenants in the correct areas," says Jonathan Alpert, general manager of Sherman Oaks Galleria. Two years ago, his mall changed from three hours free parking to two hours free, and 75 cents every half hour after that. Alpert says the mall is reconsidering those rates, to "make it a little easier for retail customers."
This "poaching" or "encroachment" also touches Century City shopping center, where the liberal, three-hours-free-parking policy has proved a temptation for area employees. Vincent Alvarez, manager of the garage run by Century Parking, says these non-shoppers are expert at cat-and-mouse ploys: Every three hours, they'll drive out of the mall, then right back in to keep their free parking.
Another fabled poaching turf is Bullock's Westwood--a perennial parking spot of UCLA students, Westwood Village shoppers and movie-goers. Before the store began charging for parking space five years ago, the Bullock's 900 spaces were filled by opening time each morning, general manager Malcolm Reuben says.
The store finally changed from this free-for-all to a system of two hours free with validation (no purchase required), and longer free parking with a purchase (without, it's $5). These terms have merely inspired new strategies, says Reuben: Many UCLA students park at Bullock's for the day, buy a pair of panty hose, then get away free.
To entice workers out of spaces intended for shoppers, the city of Beverly Hills just opened two lots on the periphery of its Business Triangle, offering shuttle service and substantially lower rates than in the central city lots. Most city lots in the Triangle provide two hours free parking and charge $12 for the day. Still, these lots haven't shaken all the workers. People still will move their cars every two hours to keep a free space, says Roger Allington, deputy director of the Beverly Hills transportation department.
One nuance of the L.A. parking game is knowing when rules are flexible.
At Neiman-Marcus in Beverly Hills, Valerie Smith says she goes straight to the cosmetics counter for parking validation, whether she has bought anything or not.