Columns, Opinions

Friedman ’19: Nice Slice — death by parking meter

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nice Slice announced Wednesday that it will be closing its Thayer Street location April 15. The news was disappointing for me, in part because I have many fond memories of late weekend nights spent at Nice Slice. I am still coming to terms with the fact that members of the class of 2021 will probably never know that Nice Slice ever existed, despite the fact that I spent most of my Saturday nights last year on the concrete steps outside their door, eating pizza with friends from my freshman unit. But what is more disappointing to me than my newfound nostalgia is the fact that the reasons for its closing were so predictable and so preventable.

The Herald article reporting on Nice Slice’s closing cites a raise in property price and the addition of parking meters on Thayer Street as the major forces behind the move. About the parking meters, Nice Slice owner Al Read said, “We’ve never recovered from this construction project. Our business has declined over the past five years.” Other Thayer Street businesses have expressed similar concerns: in a recent Providence Journal article, Avon Cinema’s owner claimed that “anti-business” parking meters are “driving away customers and destroying small businesses” on Thayer Street and that “the situation continues to deteriorate.”   

Thayer Street parking meters arrived in late 2015, around the same time that the Thayer Street District Management Authority (effectively a Thayer Street chamber of commerce sponsored by the Providence Department of Planning & Development) began improving the street’s sidewalks and installed BigBelly solar trash compactors.  Mayor Jorge Elorza proposed parking meters as a way to cover a 2 percent year-over-year spending increase in his 2015 budget proposal without increasing “broad-based” taxes. While the TSDMA’s urban design-based improvements to Thayer Street were well-received, Elorza’s parking meters were, and remain, despised. The Providence Journal even pronounced that Elorza “killed businesses with parking meters.”  Many Thayer Street businesses — including Nice Slice — created and signed a petition, deftly titled “Remove Parking Meters From Thayer Street District — NOW!”  The parking meters were so poorly received that Elorza temporarily nullified his own measure, offering free parking at metered spaces across the city from the end of November to December last year.

Parking meters — like Thayer’s CALTHA53, which generated $37,100 in revenue last year — were implemented as a solution to “free up parking space(s) for new customers” while bolstering the city’s tax base. But the loss of the social capital that local businesses bring to College Hill is certainly not worth the arguably insignificant extra dollars in tax revenue, especially when the city’s approved operating budget is sitting at a healthy $717.95 million, up $23 million from two years ago.

Parking meters have inevitably led to the demise of a number of Thayer Street restaurants, including SnoTea Café and Skewers, with Nice Slice being the latest victim. Generally this has been followed by consolidation by competing businesses, like Baja’s opening Baja’s Taqueria in Skewer’s former location. Often the companies that move in are national chains: Kung Fu Tea (which boasts 107 locations nationwide) moved into SnoTea Café’s former store. We will witness by CHLOE, a Manhattan chain, move into a space vacated by Au Bon Pain in just a few months. Often, these chains do well precisely because they aren’t local. As Read said, “They come in and they pose as being local and independent-minded, but they’ve got big advertising budgets, and it’s hard to compete with that.” As a local business, it’s especially hard to compete with national chains in a market plagued by parking meters and greedy landlords.

Considering the success of other chains on Thayer Street — Starbucks, Chipotle, most recently Insomnia Cookies — I have no doubt that another national chain will swiftly fill the void left by Nice Slice’s departure. But the Brown community will be the worse for it. National chains make Thayer Street look more like a bland, interchangeable suburban intersection than a legitimate college commercial district.  Elorza, by tactlessly skewing the market in their favor, is giving chains a leg up. I can only hope that Brown students have the moral conscience to nullify his mistakes, but so far, we have been patronizing stores and restaurants in accordance with the size of their advertising budgets. And that just put Nice Slice out of business.

Andrew Friedman ’19 can be reached at andrew_friedman@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.