Beaufort's downtown merchants want to let local shoppers know they care.
So leave the quarters behind when going downtown Sept. 24-30 because two dozen of them are picking up the tab for a week of parking.
The gesture is part of a customer-appreciation week to thank those who patronize the shops and restaurants.
"It's specifically planned to be between Lt. Dan and the Shrimp Festival, so while there will be tourists, it's for that whole week to focus on locals," said Darlene Kelly, owner of Simply Southern and Simply Southern Too.
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Kelly came up with the idea one morning when she was unable to sleep.
Paid parking seems a constant source of controversy downtown. Proponents say it encourages turnover of vehicles; opponents argue it discourages people from stopping and shopping.
Kelly walked up and down Bay Street, between Carteret and Charles streets, counting the 56 spots. She calculated it would cost $2,688 to feed each meter for a week. Divided among 20 businesses, it would cost about $135 each.
As of Monday, 23 businesses had signed up.
Kelly took her idea to Lanier Parking Solutions, which manages the city's parking, and city officials, who agreed to the plan. Each of the 56 meters will be covered with a bag, and a sticker on each will explain why. Murr Printing offered to donate the stickers, as well as signs for each participating business and slips for a drawing.
City manager Scott Dadson said it will operate similar to last year's free holiday parking, and meter time limits will be enforced by Lanier.
Each business will donate an item for prize drawings at 3 p.m. Sept. 30 in the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. People can enter by filling out slips at participating businesses.
Nancy Rhett, owner of Rhett Gallery, hasn't decided yet what she'll give away, but she wants it to have a personal touch, like one of the small watercolors she paints.
"It's an opportunity for us as merchants to kind of give back to the community what they have given to us," she said.
The money for parking is negligible when split so many ways and when compared to the benefits downtown visitors will receive, Rhett said.
"I don't know how much money it will generate in this economy, but it will generate a lot of goodwill," she said.
Kelly said she is also encouraging businesses to add their own special touches to the week. Her examples include live piano music, cupcakes and tiny pink pigs hidden around Simple Southern Too that mean an extra 15 percent off for those who find them.