LOWELL — Erie Street, the whimsical thoroughfare lined with vintage cars that attract tourists who regularly photograph the colorful antiques, could soon be left bare and void of the very vehicles that delight the crowds.
Sporadic complaints about a lack of parking along Erie prompted Bisbee City Manager Theresa Coleman to send a letter earlier this month to Erie Street residents and business owners, stating that the number of vintage cars would soon be limited to one per applicant, per address.
Cars that do remain on the street must have registration and insurance, the letter states. The vehicle owner must also apply with the city if the car is to remain parked along Erie for more than two days, the letter says. Vehicle owners who don’t comply will be hit with citations.
Residents and some business people along Erie Street said they were unhappy with Coleman’s letter.
They said if Erie Street is stripped of the majority of its antique cars, it will leave the roadway with the same dismal look it had roughly two decades go.
While she begins her letter with a nod to the old cars and the value they represent, Coleman also wrote that there must be a balance between the benefits the cars bring and the complaints about inadequate parking.
“I’m asking people to be good neighbors,” Coleman said in a telephone interview with the Herald/Review. “I recognize the vintage vehicles and the benefit they provide. But at the same time, business owners on the street have complained...”
A portion of Coleman’s letter, dated Dec. 3, states: “Beginning January 1, 2020, parking vintage vehicles on the public right of way will require a permission when the vehicle will remain parked on the street for more than 48 hours.”
“Additionally, the number of vintage vehicles displayed will be limited to one per applicant per address. Each vehicle displayed with permission must be licensed with the State of Arizona and maintained in a towable condition....Vehicles parked beyond 48 hours without permission will be subject to citations under Bisbee City Code 12.3.10.”
Some said that would destroy the identity of the area.
“If we take these cars off the street, it’s going to take away from us, of who we are,” said Mitzi Satterfield, manager of the Bisbee Breakfast Club on Erie Street. “These cars have been here for years, longer than we’ve been here. Why is this an issue after all this time?”
Satterfield, who has been at the popular eatery for nine years, said her patrons always comment about the old cars and how interesting they are.
“People come down this street and that’s what they look at,” Satterfield said.
Jay Allen, a businessman and collector whose father owned a furniture store on Erie decades ago, owns seven of the vintage vehicles that grace the street and attract camera-toting visitors daily. He and others on Erie have pumped life into the street with refurbished storefronts and signage that keep the same vintage feel as the vehicles and their bygone era. He is also one of four people who lives on Erie.
Allen, who refers to his vehicles as “props,” said he has met countless visitors from all over the world on Erie Street who constantly ask, “What is this place? Is it a movie set?”
“The vehicles are props to enhance our street of yesteryear,” Allen said this week. “And if these props are removed, our street will be dead. If it’s a legitimate complaint (that the city manager received), let the people step forward and communicate with us so we can work on it together.”
Allen says he understands Erie is a public city street.
He says he realizes his cars are a photo-op “and nothing more,” but tourists enjoy them immensely.
“We were never contacted by the city manager as to how the street came to be what it is,” Allen said. “She has never talked to us about why these props are here and how it would affect us if she chooses to do what she is doing.”
Allen said he would welcome a visit from Coleman so he can take her down Erie and talk about the street’s history and revival.
The owner of Old Lady Pickers, Nell Kline, has owned shops on Erie off and on since the 1970s. Kline, like Allen, remembers when Erie Street was devoid of any life. Kline owns a 1959 Chevrolet parked on the street.
“I think if she (the city manager) goes through with this, she’s going to kill this street,” Kline said. “People come to this street to take pictures. This was a dying little area. There were no signs, there were no cars. It was just a bunch of empty buildings, basically.”
Miami resident Cindy Lopera was walking along Erie Street Wednesday morning, camera in hand. Lopera’s brother and sister-in-law live in Sierra Vista and Lopera wanted to eat at the Bisbee Breakfast Club and see the old cars.
She was surprised that city officials want to curb the number of vehicles on Erie.
“I think it would be a negative thing. I think the cars are what make part of the town,” Lopera said. “It’s like you’re walking through a page in history. You don’t really see towns like this anymore.”
Bisbee Mayor David Smith said Coleman is simply enforcing a city code that has never been imposed on Erie Street. He said over the last couple of years there have been sporadic complaints from both tourists and business owners regarding lack of parking on Erie.
One person who has a business on the street agreed with Coleman and her plan. Luke Oldfield runs a general contracting concern on Erie, Mile High Enterprises.
“I like the idea of getting rid of some of them. Some of them have a place and some of them are just junk in the way that never move,” Oldfield said. “I like the idea of putting one car in front of the appropriate building. I’m really the only one here trying to move around and do business here and it’s kind of in my way a lot.”
Oldfield said he believes if the street is thinned out, it would create an even better atmosphere for tourists who want to take pictures with the vintage mobiles.
Allen has three different addresses on Erie. That means he could park three of his seven antique vehicles on the street and remove the other four.
“If you make me take my vehicles off the street, then all the signs come down too,” he said. “What’s gonna happen if the city wants to use codes to control a street that we have spent two decades creating? They’re going to gut the street.”