CLEVELAND — While roughly 70 new apartments start to see their first tenants move in along Mayfield Road in Little Italy, local restaurant and shop owners are worried the constant growth in the area is making it even harder for visitors to find a place to park.
The real competition starts long before those customers ever see the unique decorations inside Patti Romano's shop, Topsi Turvi.
"I always tease my customers when they come in," said Romano. "They say, 'Where do you park,' and I say, 'It's the thrill of the hunt."
The same narrow streets and tightly packed buildings that give Little Italy its charm also leave very few places for visitors to park their cars.
"If it’s a meeting and parking wasn’t a subject, it wasn't a meeting," said Robert Fatica about his Little Italy neighborhood.
A slew of new apartments, with a winery moving into the bottom of La Collina apartments will only bring more visitors to the neighborhood, fighting for the same, limited, number of spots.
"Little Italy's not opposed to new construction and to change," said Romano. "But it needs to be appropriate for our area."
When the spots in parking lots are gone, business owners tell News 5 visitors and, sometimes, the neighborhood valet program turns to the side streets, where Fatica lives.
"So I'm not sure when the breaking point is," said Fatica, referring to the point at which there isn't any more room for cars. "But I'm sure at some point that will probably come."
It's so crowded on residential streets like Fatica's that some homes use cones to block off street parking for themselves.
"One of the first questions I get from future patrons is parking," said High and Low Winery Owner Matt Snyder, who is opening a winery on the ground floor of La Collina.
In early July, he got permission from the city's Zoning Appeals Board to have fewer than the amount of parking spots city ordinances say his business should. The Zoning Appeals Board told him he'd have to work out a deal to be included in the neighborhood's valet program.
Snyder's main argument is that there just isn't any room to build any more parking nearby.
"We want to do right by the community and just be part of that and contribute and be a value-add to that community," said Snyder.
Before the Zoning Appeals Board voted to grant the variance, one member had an example Little Italy could follow in the future: Ohio City.
He pointed out that Ohio City is also growing, but has also built out the infrastructure to support the increased visitor traffic.
Even after closing down Market Avenue to vehicle traffic, taking away a minuscule number of spots compared to what's available in the lot behind the West Side Market, community leaders say there are still plenty of spots near everything else Ohio City has to offer.
"We want to invite people from around the region to come visit Ohio City, leave your car and then explore the neighborhood on foot," said Ohio City Incorporated Executive Director Tom McNair.
Romano says she doesn't feel like development in Little Italy is following the Ohio City example, and she worries it could affect the bottom line for businesses nearby.
"You don't want to have people say, 'Ehh, I'm not going to go down there because where am I going to park,'" said Romano.
Fatica says maybe there would be more coordination, if there was only a little more space.
"I think that if there was a place that we could do that, that would be something that we would have done," said Fatica.