By Bill Grosboll
October 17, 2008

Recently I had the good fortune to see some old photographs taken of the downtown area of Petersburg, even before they paved the streets with bricks. I’m just a young pup compared to those photos but I guess, in reality, I’m now just one of the “old geezers” but I still remember the streets around the square (downtown area, to you outsiders) being brick and not the smoothest of brick, at that. I noticed in the old photos that in some places, a plank was used to get from the street area to the concrete sidewalks. I can just envision that being done today! You just know that many ladies of that era, in their long dresses, took a nasty and embarrassing tumble from those planks. Those planks were probably provided by the store owners to make it more convenient to reach their store and obviously they weren’t worried about lawsuits as would be the case, this day and age. Before my mind gets to wandering too far, I guess I had better get back to the main topic, which is…..oh yeah, parking meters.

I can’t exactly state the year they were installed but it was somewhere in the early to mid fifties. The city fathers thought that these devices would be a good source of revenue for Petersburg but I’m not sure they really considered the creative mind of women shoppers.
First off, they installed the meters all around the square, on both sides of the streets. They were also installed on both sides of the street of each street immediately intersecting with the square. Parking on the square was all diagonal except the East side (Route 97) where the parking was parallel as was the case on all the adjacent streets to the square. This enabled the city to install quite a few meters in those three sides of the square, thereby increasing the expected revenue. I’m not sure just what expense the city incurred to install them but I just doubt that they ever made any money for Petersburg and I shall attempt to explain why.

First off, let me describe the meters. They had two slots, one for pennies and one for nickels. A penny would get the parker twelve minutes time and the nickel would allow for sixty minutes of parking. No real advantage to spending the nickel is there? Now, if by chance I have the coin denomination or the time allowed incorrect, please forgive me. It’s been a while since I have seen one of those meters and I never used them when they were in place, anyway. Let me explain why.

The parking meters were monitored for the city by the city policeman. Petersburg only had two or three police officers and never was there more than one policeman on duty at any one time. This meant that during his tour of duty during the day, he was required to patrol, chase us kids and give us speeding tickets, warn us about our loud exhausts, and other necessary functions which didn’t allow him much time for monitoring meters and writing parking tickets. There was a certain time of day that ‘feeding’ the meters was required so the officer at night never had to worry about patrolling the meters or writing tickets. This gave him more time to sleep while sitting in his “patrol” car which was always parked at the Northeast corner of the square, where he could monitor speeders through the square on Route 97. If the police car wasn’t parked there, then it meant that he was driving around, so we kept an eye out for him. I emphasized the word “patrol” for a reason. That being that city police car was a car bought off the showroom floor and had none of those fancy gadgets, such as radios, etc. The one squad car that stands out in my mind is the l953 Dodge, two tone (Maroon and White). Oops! My mind is starting to wander again. Sorry about that! Sometimes it wanders so far that I have a hard time finding it!

Getting back to the parking meters, I will explain why I doubt that Petersburg ever came out ahead. Prior to having a drivers license, I would go to town with Mom as a passenger and a student of the fine art of avoiding paying the parking meter. Mom came through the depression and to this day, finding a penny will make her sooo happy. She and all the other lady shoppers had a system for beating the meters. First, she would drive around the square, both directions, as the traffic on the square was two way at that time and not the one way as it is now, and look for the meter that had the most time remaining. She then had to make a choice as to whether she would take the meter with the most time and walk further to the store she wanted to shop at, or take a meter with lesser time and be somewhat nearer to the store. She would then try to determine in advance, just how long she would probably be in the store. If it was close to the time remaining on the meter, go for it! Nothing would make her happier than discovering a meter with thirty minutes or more!

The ladies also figured out that no more often than the meters were patrolled, as long as the red flag was not showing on the meter, which read “Expired”, there was a good chance that they wouldn’t get a ticket. Knowing this, no native shopper ever put more than one penny into it.

Next, if they were in the store, and they happened to notice that the policeman was preparing to write a ticket, they would immediately go out, or send one of us kids, to put in another penny. But first, Mom would try to get the store owner to cough up the penny, stating that she didn’t have a penny or couldn’t find one quickly and needed it right now. I watched her pull this off with great expertise many times.

When shopping at one of the stores that was not right on the square, she would always park just past where the meters were installed and walk a little further. I must confess, I do not know how Dad handled the meters as he never went shopping, except at Christmas time, Mom’s birthday, or their anniversary. Usually his business was at the bank or at the law offices and this definitely excluded us kids, so I’m really in the dark about him.

Finally the city decided that the meters were not ‘shopper friendly’ and had them removed. I think the real reason was that they were more labor intensive than they were worth. It was an experiment by the city to become big time that just did not work out.



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