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Parking Games

I visited a grocery store with a friend last weekend. It was in a typical suburban strip mall - the kind of place with an excess of parking spaces that will never all be filled at any given time.

(from flickr user jgrimm)

I would expect the parking lot to fill up in a predictable pattern - the spots closest to the door filling first and then moving outward away from the store. But that's not exactly what I observed. All of the closest spaces were filled; but tons of spaces slightly farther out were available, and yet some people drove in circles, apparently waiting for one of those occupied spaces to become vacant.

This behavior baffles me. I can understand if someone is disabled. I might even be able to shrug it off it the weather was inclement. But these were fully-abled people on a clear, cool and dry Sunday afternoon.

And the other thing is, even the farthest parking space from the door isn't particularly far away. The number of steps that a typically shopper takes inside the store is probably a significant multiple of the number they take in the parking lot, regardless of where they park. And nobody carries their groceries outside at this store anyway - they push them in a shopping cart all the way back to the car.

A friend of the blog suggested to me that people behave this way because they are playing some kind of strange parking lot game. Taking any open space other than one right next to the story would be conceding defeat; but circling and waiting for that prime space to become available makes the person feel like a winner. It makes sense in a twisted way, although I'd like to believe we haven't devolved to that.


Zima said…
rob, you really need to make that banner a link to your homepage like it used to be.

parking? the psychology of it is ridiculous. The only reason huge lots exist is so that there will never, ever be a time that they fill completely up. Stores are willing to front the cost all year round so they project the notion that they are never turning away a customer. Christmas-centered society? yeah
Rob Pitingolo said…
I'll dig through the CSS and see if I can get that link back up there.

Sometimes the retailers don't even get a choice. Local governments create zoning laws that legally require X number of spaces per Y square footage of retail space. I don't know what the law is at the strip mall in question, but I imagine it's up there.
Anonymous said…
No offense but some of your recent posts have hardly been "extraordinary observations". Maybe its time for a break? More observing and less writing?
ChuckinTucson said…
This reminds me of a friend of mine who lived in San Francisco. He would drive around and around a block looking for a meter with some time on it, instead of just putting $.25 or $.50 in an expired meter. Probably spent $5 in gas circling the block to save $.50 on a meter.

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