Freehold Raceway Mall is doing something shocking. They've decided to try out a pilot program where patrons pay for the best parking spots. This isn't valet parking mind you. This is where you find a spot near the door and park yourself. They took 60 of the best parking spaces by Macy's and Nordstrom and attached a $5 fee for the privilege of parking there.

You've...got...to...be...kidding...me.

The plan is being tried out on weekends only. For now. Frank Lucia, the mall's senior project manager, says, "We want a spot where customers know they can find a convenient place to park."

Yeah, uh, you already had that. Now you're charging for it.

They say the idea is for people who might have young children and/or a lot of bags to bring back to their car. Again, you already had that. Now you're charging for it. If you really cared about the plight of beleaguered parents jostling kids and bags you could have left it at free reserved parking for parents of young children.

This is such a terrible idea considering internet sales are devouring shopping malls. Last year Gymboree Corp filed for bankruptcy and announced intent to close 1,281 locations. Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant's parent company is in the middle of a two year process of closing over 600 stores. Michael Kors Holdings said it was shutting down more than 10% of its locations in reaction to the competition from online shopping.

While Freehold Raceway Mall has so far held its own against the online threat, is it wise to tempt fate by starting to nickel and dime patrons and charge for parking that had always been free? If such a petty idea works there, won't all the malls in New Jersey that are really struggling wonder if they can get away with it too as a small way to offset losses?

If this idea spreads not only to more stores but to far more parking spaces at any given store, all they're doing is making a stronger case for the convenience of online shopping. Cyber Monday anyone?

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