On Saturday, June 29th, Dr. Michael Counce and his partner Paul Mitchell, owners of Cafe Olé, placed flyers in their windows and inserted them into their menus. The flyers explain that Cafe Olé has an exclusive lease for the parking lot behind their building. They further explain that because patrons of other Cooper-Young businesses use their parking lot freely, they will begin to charge a $5 parking fee redeemable for $5 worth of product at Cafe Olé.
Though all Cooper-Young businesses are implicated, Tiger Bryant, owner of the Young Avenue Deli next to Cafe Olé, and Karen Blockman Carrier, owner of the as-yet-unopened Beauty Shop restaurant across Cooper, were singled out as chiefly responsible for this decision.
Signs designating it as private have since been erected at the entrance to Cafe Olé's parking lot and vehicles have already been towed away. On Saturday night, Bryant paid $175 to the towing company to release one patron's vehicle. Claims concerning damage to towed vehicles remain unverified. Towing continued even after Cafe Olé closed for the evening.
Neither Carrier nor Bryant knew that they had been named on Cafe Olé's flyers until they were contacted for this story. Both have contacted their attorneys, claiming the flyers might constitute libel.
Carrier, who will not open her newest restaurant for at least another week, had a well-attended "soft opening" on Saturday night. She and Bryant have small parking lots adjacent to their businesses and both rent additional parking space from First Congregational Church just south of their businesses.
"I can't control the world," Carrier says. "I can't be responsible for where my customers park. [Cooper-Young] is a destination. People will have drinks at [one restaurant], dinner [at another], and dessert [at another]. That's how it should work. This kind of thing just hurts all of us."
According to Bryant, his own parking lot is regularly half-full of Cafe Olé's patrons. "But we don't tow," he says. "And we're not going to start towing. The way we look at it, the more businesses that open here, the better everyone does."
Parking has been an ongoing issue between Cafe Olé and Young Avenue Deli, and in recent weeks, harsh words have been exchanged between representatives of Cafe Olé and the Beauty Shop.
"We want to welcome Karen to the neighborhood," Counce says. "And we hope she does well. We just can't be responsible for parking for all of Cooper-Young."
No one from the Cooper-Young Business Association was available for comment about the parking feud. The district is zoned as light-commercial, which means that all restaurant owners must meet certain parking requirements prior to opening. Both Carrier and Bryant have met these standards.