FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — With the back-to-school shopping season about to begin, a new parking option at a New Jersey mall has drawn ire and praise.

Signs in the parking lot at the mall's merry-go-round now promote a $5 fee to self-park in the spots closest to the entrance on Saturday and Sunday for a program called "Front and Center."

"We're offering a valet-type convenience. People can park there and keep their keys rather than give them to someone else and pay a very small fee to park at the closest spots to get into the mall," Debra Panzarella, the mall's senior marketing manager, told New Jersey 101.5. She said customers will also receive coupons and discount offers from mall retailers.

Panzarella said the program is for 60 spaces in one of the mall's 18 lots. There are 6,000 total spaces.

The mall also offers valet parking for a price.

The program is designed in response to the frustration of many Freehold Raceway Mall customers at not being able to park closer during busy weekends.

"It's not a new idea. They're doing it all over the country. It's been a successful programs at many malls around the country," Panzarella said.

According to a description of the program on the mall website, the program is intended to alleviate parking congestion.

Not all shoppers welcomed the concept.

"Paying for parking? What’s next, an admission fee to the Mall? An idea that may have sounded good in a meeting but looks foolish when put into practice," one commenter said in the Freehold Parents Facebook group.

"With so many malls on the brink of closure all across America, and many that have already closed, this is not a very wise decision," another commenter said. "No benefits come with the pay to park fee. Every one of those stores in the mall has a website and if not the merchandise can be found online somewhere else that does not charge a five dollar parking fee."

There was also support for the new policy from members of the group, who noted that the cost for the parking space is recovered by the store discounts.

"I have no issues with it. If people want to pay, do it. If not, don’t. When my 89-year-old father-in-law is with us or my 70-year-old mom on cold days in winter, I would pay. Also if I had holiday shopping alone at night, I might pay. Otherwise I would just park by Primark as usual," one woman said.

Panzarella said the mall is monitoring the reaction to determine how long the program will remain.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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