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Peggys Cove tourists must eat up, or pay up

Jul 16, 2008

Pulling your car over at picturesque Peggys Cove just got pricier.

That’s because the Sou’Wester Restaurant and Gift Shop, which owns the paved lot atop the rocky hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is now making visitors pony up $5 to park there.

Before this past Saturday, it was free to stop your car in the parking lot, go for a walk and take in the charming red and white lighthouse that stands guard as waves crash against the shore, spraying the breeze with salt water.

John Campbell, whose family has owned the business beside the Nova Scotia landmark since 1967, confirmed he started charging the fee over the weekend.

But he emphasized if you eat in his restaurant or shop in his store, you’ll get all your cash back — in the form of a $5 voucher for his business.

"It’s good for things like ice-cream cones, bottles of pop . . . homemade fudge to take home with you," Mr. Campbell said as he sat down at one of the tables inside his bustling restaurant.

"It’s not meant to offend anybody," he said. "It was just to try to have our parking lot utilized by our customers."

After all, the parking lot is privately owned.

In fact, the only lot in Peggys Cove that’s actually owned by the provincial government is located a short trek down the hill from the famous lighthouse.

"It’s difficult for us to put conditions on private property," Wendy Barnable, a spokeswoman for the Tourism, Culture and Heritage Department, said over the phone Tuesday.

"We do provide free parking space close by."

Ms. Barnable said the provincial parking lot is now "much improved," thanks to a $1-million investment made last year to fix up the visitor information centre, add new interpretative signage and expand the lot with about 30 more spaces for vehicles of all sizes.

In total, she said there are about 75 parking spaces available in the provincial lot for cars, buses and other vehicles.

Comparatively, Mr. Campbell said the Sou’Wester Restaurant and Gift Shop has spaces for about 110 vehicles of different varieties.

"I think it would be nice if everything was free — if museums could be free," Ms. Barnable said when asked whether the province would prefer parking to be offered for free by the local business owner.

"But I do think that visitors often expect to pay something for parking," she said. "I don’t think it’s unusual."

Some tourists who stopped by the Nova Scotia landmark Tuesday didn’t seem to mind doling out the extra dough.

"I don’t mind paying it because I’m on vacation," said Sonya Patronik, a Wilmington, Del., resident who was making her third trip to Peggys Cove.

"It’s five dollars, you know. And it’s a beautiful location."

Her husband, Jon Patronik, pondered the question carefully but eventually said he feels the fee is worth it if it benefits the small coastal community in the end.

"(But) it seems like a lot to go from nothing to five," he said.

Halifax taxi driver Daniel Mikel was less than impressed with what he sees as a cash grab.

"It’s not fair," he said of the fee as he waited outside the restaurant to pick up any tourists who needed a ride out of Peggys Cove.

The Staples and Peel families from Lindsay, Ont., managed to skirt the new fee altogether — they made a wrong turn and went into the parking lot through the exit instead of the entrance.

Even though she didn’t pay up, Jane Staples said she thinks seeing the most recognizable lighthouse in Nova Scotia "is well worth five dollars."

So far, Mr. Campbell said he can count on one hand the number of customers who have walked away displeased with the fee. For the most part, he said, people have understood.

"At lunch hour, we have customers and our parking lot’s full and they want to come in and eat and we don’t have a parking spot for them," he said.

"What we wanted to do is come up with a system where they really wouldn’t have to pay if they were going to be a customer of any of our businesses."

Mr. Campbell said he may even lose money with this new venture. He’s hired a couple of summer staffers to supervise the lot and is paying for a shuttle to transport staff in order to make more space available for customers.

Additionally, he’s not charging buses and coaches for parking and spaces will be available at no cost when the restaurant and shop are closed.

"It’s our parking lot that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on, and we’d like it to be utilized by people that are going to spend money in our business," he said. "We’re just trying to provide free parking for our customers.

"If somebody (else) would like to park there, hopefully they will understand it’s going to cost them."

According to the provincial government, more than 600,000 people visit Peggys Cove every year.

Peggys Cove tourists must eat up, or pay up

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