Surprised By Strong Demand, Collinsville Marijuana Dispensary Finds A Quick Fix For Lack Of Parking | St. Louis Public Radio

Surprised By Strong Demand, Collinsville Marijuana Dispensary Finds A Quick Fix For Lack Of Parking

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COLLINSVILLE — The first month of recreational marijuana sales at Illinois Supply and Provisions brought hoards of people and their vehicles to a store that didn’t have enough parking for them. 

The dispensary reserved its 45-space parking lot for medical patients. There was a maze of metal barriers constructed to contain the crowds wanting to buy recreational cannabis. 

“I continue to be amazed the lines are still there. This is the new normal,” said Kathleen Olivastro, Illinois Supply and Provisions regional director.

Technically, the dispensary meets the city’s zoning requirements for parking: four spots for every 1000 square feet of building, said Derek Jackson, Collinsville assistant city manager. But massive and consistent demand for legal cannabis caught city and dispensary officials by surprise. 

The dispensary could not accommodate the hundreds of vehicles that showed up nearly every day of January. The cars crowded the edges of narrow frontage roads near the building whenever the store was open. 

Throughout the month, dispensary officials sought parking alternatives and ways to effectively contain the crowds drawn to the store.

“We have to do our part to be good neighbors,” Olivastro said.

Illinois Supply and Provisions now has a way to handle the daily influx of vehicles. It’s leasing about 250 parking spaces in two lots between 0.3 and 0.5 miles away, Jackson said. 

“This seems to be a good immediate fix in the short term, as far as the concerns we were hearing from the surrounding business owners regarding traffic,” he said. 

The city saw parking around the dispensary as an ongoing issue and intervened to help broker a deal for temporary parking with the former Gateway Fun Park Center, Jackson explained. The dispensary is also leasing spots from Zapata's Mexican Restaurant.  

Jackson added the city would revisit the parking-lot lease at the end of three months to determine if it needs to be extended. 

Illinois Supply and Provisions contracted a shuttle to ferry customers from the satellite lot to the dispensary. Jackson said the shuttle is refusing to take customers back to their cars after purchasing legal cannabis.

‘A complete nightmare’

Before this initial fix, businesses next to the dispensary bore the brunt of the car influx in the first month of sales. Stacy Frierdich-Hinrichs, the DoubleTree Hotel general manager, said the first day of legal sales was “a complete nightmare.”

“Our parking lot for hours was inundated,” she explained. “Cars were parking on berms and our grassway. That day was completely out of control.”

Eager patrons parked wherever they could, often in spots reserved for nearby private businesses. 

“We would put cones up, and people would drive over or move them,” said Michael Lundy, executive director of the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority, which has its offices next to the dispensary. “They just had no regard this was private property.”

The crowds were a nuisance for Frierdich-Hinrichs and her staff. She explained dispensary goers would use parking that’s for employees and guests of the hotel, and leave beer bottles, fast-food bags and other litter on her property. 

“It’s been time-consuming just trying to run people off our lots and chase them down in the hotel utilizing what’s not theirs,” Frierdich-Hinrichs explained. “We’re trying to run a business, not play parking attendant. How do you open a business without parking?”

Other organizations took more extreme measures to combat the influx. Ameren Illinois hired a security guard, and the Illinois State Police used trooper cars to block entrances to their parking.

The chaos in January left lasting negative impacts for the DoubleTree, Frierdich-Hinrichs said. Companies threatened they wouldn't use the hotel again, and guests left negative reviews, she said. 

In an attempt to control her parking lots, Frierdich-Hinrichs resorted to using printed parking passes and towing cars that did not have them.

“We’re having people that we’ve towed, or acquaintances of people towed, that are giving us bad surveys that aren’t even staying here,” she said. “Bad Google and TripAdvisor reviews because they think they should be able to use our parking lot.”

For now, the new shuttle service has alleviated many of the complaints businesses surrounding the dispensary raised. 

“It’s been the difference of night and day,” Lundy said. 

The city is also considering an ordinance that prohibits parking on the streets that surround Illinois Supply and Provisions — Eastport Plaza Drive and Executive Drive, Jackson said.

After January's troubles, Frierdich-Hinrichs said she isn’t against having a dispensary but warns of their unintended consequences, especially with people looking for parking.

“No matter what signs you put up, it’s going to be ignored,” she said. “That’s what we've seen here.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid 

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