At best, the lack of nearby parking in downtown Soldotna every Wednesday in the summer is a nuisance for marketgoers.
But Soldotna Wednesday Market organizer Annette Villa said it can also drive away customers.
“When they drive through and there’s no parking spots, then they tend to leave," she said.
Soldotna is looking to free up nearby parking to make it easier for visitors to get to the market, and is urging vendors to avoid parking in spaces right next to the park. Long term, it's also developing parking for cooperative use with private businesses in the area.
“When you have customers that can find a parking spot and feel comfortable with the distance to walk into the park, they’re bringing their money with them," Villa said.
Right now, the market’s 70-plus vendors quickly fill the closest parking spots, right next to the park. Customers have to find spots elsewhere, often to the chagrin of local business owners.
Like Clyde Crandall. He manages the AutoZone store next door.
“It just makes it hard for my customers to pull in and find a parking spot," he said.
He said he has a pretty big parking lot. But on busy market days, it can fill up with cars.
On nights when there’s a well-known musical headliner, it can be even crazier.
“I really like the music series, the Wednesdays," he said. "I have a lot of friends that have vendor trucks and stuff there. And it’s a great draw. We need it, desperately. But the parking is a situation.”
Now, the lot at Soldotna Creek Park will largely be open to customers. Vendors will drop off their wares at the park before the market starts and park in designated lots nearby.
Villa said she tried that first system this week. She’s a vendor, too, and thinks it made a difference.
“It’s a big deal to free up that many parking spaces for customers," she said.
Still, even if all the market vendors comply, that system only frees up a limited amount of parking space.
Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael said the city is planning to partner with neighboring businesses to secure parking in their lots. He said they’re working on finalizing agreements with businesses and hopes they’ll be ready to go next summer.
Crandall said he’d like to see the city extend Homestead Lane, a plan he said he’s been hearing about since he started at Auto Zone. That would create some additional parking and alleviate some of the traffic that builds up on East Redoubt Ave.
The city has had that project on its back burner for a while. But Soldotna Planning Director John Czarneski said it doesn’t plan on going through with it any time soon.