Public parking in downtown Hillsdale is at a premium, after the January opening of the Hillsdale Brewing Company. Cus­tomers are encouraged to use the lots near the post office and next to the Great Wall Chinese restaurant, despite the new business’s prox­imity to two private lots and extra space near the railroad tracks on Hillsdale Street.

“There is no parking on Hillsdale Street for the first block between Car­leton and Monroe streets, and going north from there, there is no parking on the east side and limited parking on the west side,” Hillsdale Police Chief Scott Hephner said. “So it’s a tight sit­u­ation in that part of town, but there are three city parking lots in close prox­imity.”

City zoning laws require downtown busi­nesses to provide parking for patrons within 300 feet of their front door. The number of parking spaces is based on the square footage of the building. For the brewery and other busi­nesses without their own lots, their prox­imity to public parking helps, Hillsdale Brewing Company manager Felicia Finch said.

“Parking is always everyone’s question,” Finch said. “Shortly after we opened, we put up the signs for the parking on Monroe Street. We are con­sidered downtown, so we can use the public parking areas.”

After early issues with brewery patrons parking in private lots, two neigh­boring busi­nesses have increased signage on their lots to enforce this public parking ordi­nance. Troy Strane, general manager of the Indiana North­eastern railroad, which has offices across Hillsdale Street from the Brewing Company, also dis­couraged cus­tomers from parking too close to the tracks in the gravel between the tracks and the brewery.

“The parking lot off Hillsdale Street north of the tracks across from the brewery, as well as that whole dri­veway leading up to our offices in the two-story red building, is all private property that we manage for the state of Michigan,” Strane said. “We have to be able to move our vehicles. When the brewery first opened, all of a sudden the lot was filling up with brewery cus­tomers.”

The state of Michigan pro­vided extra signage (in addition to extant No Tres­passing signs) to dis­courage parking in areas the railroad uses for property storage.

“We’re not trying to be mean,” Strane said. “It’s just a lia­bility thing. We can’t have people who have been drinking, in case some­thing happens. That would be the same for anyone who has private property.”

Across the tracks on the same side of Hillsdale Street, 42 Union owner Marty Hubbard cited similar reasons for restricting her parking lot to patrons of the Rough Draft cof­fee­house, res­i­dences of the apart­ments, and patrons of other busi­nesses in the building.

Hubbard, like Finch, has to comply with city ordi­nances about parking space according to the size and function of her property.

“According to the law, I have to provide spaces times two for every bedroom, so that’s 48 spaces,” Hubbard said. “Then there are 5 busi­nesses that have clients and cus­tomers that must be legally pro­vided for. I’m at full capacity, according to the city require­ments.”

On the south side of the Brewing Company, Phil Palmer, an owner of the Hillsdale Towing Company, which butts up against the brewery property, said his lot is not open to parking: “Our wreckers have to be able to get out of the garage at all hours of the night, and that’s why we don’t have parking around there.”

But he said he hasn’t received any towing requests from the railroad.

Hephner said the police department hasn’t gotten involved in parking issues with private lots.

“If someone did call us, the lot owner has the respon­si­bility to call the towing company, and the car would be towed at the vehicle owner’s expense,” Hephner said.

But they could issue tickets if those parking between the brewery and the tracks caused a vis­i­bility issue in the railroad’s right of way, which is 25 feet from the center of the tracks.

Although the boundary of the brewery’s private property extends to the railroad tracks, Finch said she is careful to keep the lot uncon­gested: “The place I park is on our property. My employees park on Monroe Street. Some­times they park on the gravel by the back door to unload food.”

She said she has parked further from the front door of a business for less savory expe­ri­ences: “If I park on Monroe and look at the brewery, it’s no further than I have to walk when I go to Wal-Mart or Meijer.”

Hubbard said the closeness of downtown parking options hasn’t caused clashes between the busi­nesses:

“We share employees as well as cus­tomers. Col­lab­o­ration is the new com­pe­tition. The Finches are ter­rific people and good cus­tomers of Rough Draft. Kevin comes in almost everyday for coffee and cookies. Our staff eats next door reg­u­larly. We’re all in this risky business together and we have mutual respect for each other. I wish Hillsdale Brewery all the best and I want to support them in their endeavor whole­heartedly. If I had an extra parking lot I wasn’t using I’d happily share it with them.”

Parking restric­tions in downtown Hillsdale. Nic Rowan | Col­legian