KENNEWICK -- An expanded tenant at the Highlands Shopping Center at Highway 395 and West Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick is making some neighboring businesses nervous.
Business operators say most of the parking spots in the shopping center are being taken up by those coming to use the new large Gold's Gym location, leaving no room for their customers.
Ever since the gym moved to the larger facility within the shopping complex a few months ago, customers at China Cafe Restaurant began complaining they can't easily find a place to park, said Nena Hoover, manager of the restaurant. Evenings are worst, especially from 5 to 7 p.m., she said.
Customers are lucky if they get to park by Carl's Jr. restaurant to come to China Cafe, which has been in business for about 25 years and has a loyal clientele, she said.
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"Our business has plummeted by about 40 percent," she said.
The takeout business has been hit hard, Hoover said. Customers don't want to walk a long distance with cars whizzing past them, she said.
"It's like living in Seattle (looking at the rush) in this little complex," Hoover said.
Nancy Leggett, manager at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream store, said she often has seen gym users park in front of her store -- recognizing them by the duffel bags they carry. Her store's business also is down, she said.
Lack of designated parking spots in the shopping center may be keeping customers away, both Hoover and Leggett said.
The shopping complex's owners feel the property is for everyone's use and that's why they don't have designated parking, said Brett Howell, general manager of Gold's Gym at the mall, which also has a Rite Aid and REI outdoor gear store.
Howell said the gym's traffic actually is benefiting other businesses. More people at the shopping center means more business, he said, noting he and many of his employees patronize the Starbucks coffee store in the complex.
Howell said the owners are planning to designate short-term parking spots closer to the China Cafe, and he said gym employees are parking behind the gym to alleviate potential congestion.
Dave Berkowitz, REI store manager, said parking may have been an issue when the building that houses Gold's was being remodeled, but not now. "There's is enough parking for everyone," said Berkowitz, who recently moved from Seattle.
And Sgt. Ken Lattin of the Kennewick Police Department said police haven't had any traffic issues in the area.
But Bernt Hart of Kennewick, who loves going to China Cafe, said it's difficult to find a parking spot in the complex. He said he recently drove in circles for about five minutes before he could park near Radio Shack.
What many may consider a short walk may be difficult for the elderly or those with a medical condition, said Hart, who recently had surgery.
Todd Holgerson, manager at Treasure Tree, a consignment boutique store in the center, said customers don't like to walk too far from where they park. He agrees the parking lot is busier than before, but said his customers aren't complaining.
Holgerson said he's hoping more customers at the shopping center will mean more exposure for the businesses there. "A lot of traffic is great, a lot of sales is better," he said.