By Kevin Deutsch
For longtime Riverdale residents, the risk posed by parking at the Staples parking lot on Broadway is well-known: venture to a store outside the shopping center and your car may very well be gone upon your return, whisked away to a tow lot on Riverdale Avenue.
But shoppers may finally be able to breathe a bit easier thanks to an announced change in policy, largely due to a deluge of complaints.
“We’ve stopped the towing,” Staples spokeswoman Amy Shanler said Tuesday.
Riverdale Towing and Collision, which, according to Staples, kept an observer in the lot in order to watch whether drivers left the shopping center, was told last week “their services were no longer needed,” Ms. Shanler said. The towing company had been hauling cars from the lot for years, generating a number of complaints along the way from customers unaware of the policy that forbid them from leaving the shopping center.
In recent years, drivers parking at the Staples lot, as well as the lot behind the Key Food supermarket on West 235th Street, have complained that the rules governing the lots are not clearly posted. They also argue that residents shopping locally should not be treated the same as commuters who leave their car in the lots all day while riding the subway.
In recent weeks, Staples received a number of complaints from shoppers who had been towed, including Valeria White, whose niece recently parked Ms. White’s car in the lot while she shopped for back-to-school supplies at Staples. She exited to find the car gone.
Ms. White said Staples refunded the $108 she paid to have her car released from Riverdale Towing. But that hasn’t satisfied her. She’s returned to the lot several times to document the towing practices and to confront the “spotter” who “spies” on shoppers, she said. Now, she’s trying to find other drivers who were improperly towed in the hopes of filing a lawsuit on the group’s behalf.
“They’re stealing from people,” Ms. White said of the tow company and the lot’s owner. “It shouldn’t be allowed to go on.”
Staples said they do not actually own the lot, but could not provide any information on who did. They say it was their company, not the lot’s owner, who hired Riverdale Towing to remove unauthorized vehicles. They did so because of concerns about subway-riders and other drivers who were parking in the lot but not patronizing the shopping center itself.
Riverdale Towing did not return calls seeking comment.
“I think the intent was positive in that we wanted the people who shop our stores to have a place to park,” said Ms. Shanler. “But with a rise in complaints, we wanted to call it off and reevaluate. We’re just going to monitor the situation. If there’s an issue again, we’ll have to look at it again.”
Wilfredo Alverio, whose car was towed from the lot when he left the shopping center to buy something across the street, believes the practices employed the lot are “abusive.” He had promised to take legal action before Staples announced the policy change.
“Does the owner want the customers to park and shop at peace or not?” Mr. Alverio asked.
For now, Staples says, the answer is yes.
Meanwhile, drivers looking to shop on Johnson Avenue should continue to pay attention to the list of merchants it’s okay to visit while parked in the lot behind Key Food on West 235th Street.