AUBURN, ME—After serving the area for more than four decades, Parking Lot 2A lowered its moveable-arm gates for the last time Friday. The much-loved municipal parking lot is only the most recent casualty of Wal-Mart parking lots.
A Wal-Mart Supercenter opened across from Lot 2A in October 2001.
Comprising 80 public and 45 rental stalls, the city-owned lot charged $3 a day during its prime. However, city engineers report that over the past five years, 2A's clientele has steadily eroded, as more Auburn locals have opted for the convenience of the Wal-Mart lot.
Locals in the Lewiston-Auburn region say the municipal lot's closure marks the end of a public-parking-space-rental era.
"Shutting down the lot was a hard decision to make," said former parking-lot manager Blaine Gaffney, whose great-uncle Merle Wilson was the city public-works engineer who oversaw the construction of the lot in 1962. "We were just breaking even as it was. Then along comes Wal-Mart, just giving away parking for free, and we simply couldn't keep up."
Run by three generations of attendants, Lot 2A offered locals a safe, accessible, low-cost setting to park their cars.
"We were proud of how we ran our parking lot," said Gaffney, the walls of whose office were once decorated with photographs of lot staffers posing with loyal motorists and their cars. "People came from all over the county to park here. We served a lot of good, hardworking people for four decades. Not a lot of people can say that these days."
When the final car left Friday evening, Gaffney likened Lot 2A to a nuclear test site. Gray and featureless, save for the odd crack in the concrete, and eerily quiet, the lot hardly seemed the place where WCSH-6 newscaster Bill Green once parked his Audi. Without question, Lot 2A's days of celebrity patronage are no more.
"When that lot was built 44 years ago, it took nearly a month of backbreaking work to get it into shape," Gaffney said. "My wife's dad and my cousins on my mom's side got down on their hands and knees to help smooth the concrete themselves. This new one, they just came in with some Mexicans and dumped the cement."
Gaffney added: "Didn't take more than two days. Three, if you count painting the stall lines."
Despite Gaffney's grumbling contention that the Wal-Mart lot is "built on a sinkhole," it has been widely characterized as the parking place to beat. Boasting 1,000 spaces, state-of-the-art halogen light posts, clearly marked stalls, and small, concrete-hemmed islands of foliage, the Wal-Mart lot does have its advantages, locals report.
"With this new lot, there's no waiting, and it's free," former municipal-lot patron Edwin "Smokey" Thompson, 61, said. "And there's always plenty of places."
Thompson added: "Plus it's a lot closer to the Wal-Mart."
Some car owners are wistful about the transition.
"I'll miss the old lot," Lewiston resident Christine Fink, 41, said. "There were some oil stains, but there was character, and they always had a smile for you. It may not have been as level as the Wal-Mart lot, and it may have had puddles when it rained, but I still liked it."
To many Auburners, Lot 2A was a reminder of simpler times when people came to shop at the Ace Hardware store, or enjoyed a malt at Denny's.
"People had their favorite parking spots," Gaffney said. "It didn't matter that the paint had worn off. They just knew where to go because they had come so many times. Still, as soon as that new lot opened, people got suckered in by the price. But at the new lot, they don't know the drivers by name like we did."
Gaffney hopes to keep that personal touch alive in his new job as a cart collector at the Wal-Mart lot.
"I always say hello to everyone who drives through," Gaffney said. "I get strange looks, but in time they'll get used to it, maybe even learn my name. I certainly hope so, because I need this job."
Wal-Mart officials had no comment on Lot 2A's closure or whether unfair parking practices may have played a role in its demise.
"It is not the policy of Wal-Mart to comment on the activities of other businesses," Wal-Mart spokesman Olan James said. "We pride ourselves on our work with communities, and we hope that in time, people will come to embrace our parking lot as one of the family."