The law of supply and demand states that if people want something bad enough, they'll pay for it. If it's scarce, they'll pay more. Where there's healthy competition, they'll shop around and go with the lowest price.
Norristown doesn't take up a lot of space. Anyone here can be in King of Prussia, Conshohocken or West or East Norriton inside of 10 minutes. And those communities currently have a larger selection of restaurants, retail stores, and service businesses. All with FREE parking.
Unless you work downtown, why would anyone choose to come to Main Street on a weekday to have lunch? What shopping is there? Why would anyone put $2 to $4 into a parking kiosk to spend an hour or two here?
West Marshall Street used to have a lot of weekday shoppers. When I would go to my dentist there, it was often difficult to find a parking spot. Since the parking meters were installed, the only really busy day now is Saturday. I personally know of two stores that went out of business because of the drop-off in trade. And my dentist moved to another end of town.
The one place in Norristown that draws the most out-of-town visitors is Elmwood Park Zoo. And it has free parking.
Ask the Powers That Be in Norristown why we have so many parking meters and garages in the borough, and their stock answer is "We're really more of a city." The truth is, they thought profits from the meters would fill our town coffers. Do we make money from parking? Only from fines for violations (mostly from "street cleaning day" parking). Money from meters is minimal, mainly because people won't use metered spaces unless forced to. They choose to go elsewhere. The money we do get from the meters doesn't come near the dollars lost in taxes when businesses move out.
This afternoon, I need to drop off something at an office on Airy. My brother's driving me down, so he can do a loop around the block while I run inside. I've seen people do this for the post office, too. Most people don't use the Norristown Post Office at all. We have other choices—Bluebell, King of Prussia, Eagleville—all with free parking.
That's what it boils down to: Norristown is no longer considered a choice by consumers. The more paid parking we have in the borough, the more it encourages folks to take their food, entertainment and shopping dollars elsewhere.
If we're going to try to revitalize the borough's economy, we need to give West Marshall and Main Street businesses a way to compete with neighboring communities. As long as we have parking meters, supply and demand will rule, Norristown will fail.