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Rates can and do change on a daily basis at Hampton Beach

by Alexander Plummer

Herald Sunday, August 19, 2007

[The following article is courtesy of the Herald Sunday and Seacoast Online.]

Parking lot attendant Tyler Blondeau, of Goffstown, takes a customer’s money at Central Parking at Hampton Beach on Sunday afternoon. With parking prices at $20.00, there was a steady stream of cars entering the lot, probably because several lots down Ashworth Avenue were already full by 12:30 Sunday afternoon. Scott Yates photo. 8-12-07

HAMPTON BEACH — What’s the one necessity every beachgoer needs this summer? Here’s a hint. They are always in stock, but sometimes they are not available for purchase. Their price changes from time to time, mostly when the weather shifts, and if you see one now, you might as well grab it as quickly as you can.

What might you ask could this coveted summer object be?

A parking spot at Hampton Beach, of course.

Parking attendants strategically stationed throughout the beach area are ready and willing to sell you a sought-after piece of real estate that could be off the market in 20 seconds flat.

All across the beach, the story is the same: Come early and find a spot with relative ease or wait until midday and face the prospect of waiting.

“We are 105 percent full on the weekends and people come very early,” EZ parking attendant Nick Ponte said on a recent sunny morning. “We get a lot of people who beg us for a spot, and I have even seen people offer us $60 for a spot that usually goes for $20.”

Ponte, who has been working as an attendant for the last two summers, says the weather is the deciding factor when it comes to parking at the beach.

Despite a sign saying the Town of Hampton Muniipal Lot is full, an SUV enters the lot on Sunday afternoon. “Welcome to my nightmare,” said one beach goer from Hudson Falls, New York, after searching for one hour for a parking spot. Scott Yates photo. 8-12-07

“It all depends if it is sunny or not,” he said. “The forecast really plays into it a lot for us, and it also helps us set our prices.”

The Hampton resident explained that if his owner sees a good forecast for the weekend, the prices will go up, because as he puts it, “All those people have to park somewhere.”

Off the strip and back on Ashworth Avenue, the parking lots appear from block to block, acting almost as lighthouse beacons in the pavement, beckoning and directing visitors to store their cars for the day.

“We have a lot more busy days this year as well as slow days, but overall we still do very well,” said Central parking owner Maurice Blondeau. “The weather has been good this year, but I have noticed a lot more carpooling, which is probably due to gas prices.”

Blondeau, who has been running his parking business for six years, says competition is always helping to determine where and when people are parking.

“You have to have competition every time you are in business,” he said. “If the supply is too high, the demand will go down, so I try to see what everyone is charging and figure out my rates from day to day.”

The rates do change from day to day, and that is what makes the parking game in Hampton an unsteady one to play, he said.

“On a nice day, we rarely fill up before 2 and the crowds are usually done parking by 2:45,” he said. “But there’s enough parking to go around for everyone, so I don’t raise or lower my prices too much. I’m a businessman and I want to keep up, but I’m also not going to give anything away for free.”

Across the street at the Casino Ballroom parking lot, attendant Roger McDervitt believes the parking game is hard to win, but it does help to be located next to the area’s biggest economic draw.

“A lot of people ask me about location and not being on the beach,” he said. “But I never hear anyone complain about it, because if there is a big show, we will be sold out by 7 that night.”

McDevitt cited the recent Deep Purple show as a perfect example.

“They played last night and we were filled up. Everyone comes here first for the shows,” he said.

Aside from the expected draw of the concerts, McDevitt says the way to describe business this summer has been so far, so good.

“We are busier than last year, especially with the Canadians,” he said. “It usually depends on the weather, but not this year. We have had better weather in longer stretches so far this summer.”

Unlike most lots in town, the rates at the Casino never change, and McDevitt says patrons can chalk that up to the man in charge.

“The owner never changes the rates to park here,” he said. “He is very adamant about people spending their money out on the boardwalk and in the shops, and that will never change.”

The rates may change, but as long as the visitors keep coming to the beach, the parking game will stay the same.

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