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An initially limp response to a trial program encouraging employees along Madison Street to leave valuable parking spaces available to customers has ballooned in recent weeks, but the number of participants is still far below initial expectations.

Sixty-three employees at nine different businesses have received permits allowing them to park immediately south of Madison on Adams and Jackson streets without fear of penalty, according to the village. Those figures are up dramatically from early August when only a dozen applications had been received, but the pilot program is still languishing below initial projections that the program could free as many as 120 spaces.

“It’s still young,” Patty McKenna, a member of the ad hoc committee responsible for the effort, said.

McKenna is one of a handful of residents Mayor Anthony Calderone called upon to work with business owners in addressing the parking shortage after the village received an overwhelming response in opposition to a proposal late last year to demolish several homes for parking. A 2006 study of the village’s parking needs revealed a shortage of 158 spaces along Madison Street.

McKenna’s home was one of those slated to be torn down.

On Aug. 3, the Chamber of Commerce mailed a letter to 86 businesses and organizations inviting applicants to sign up for the free parking program. The permit allows employees to park in designated residential areas between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m., Monday through Friday, and 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends without fear of being ticketed.

“The goal was to try and be creative and find out if (those ideas) work,” Calderone said. “The only way to see if they work is to test them.”

Committee member Chuck Hoehne said the sluggish response could be reversed when he and others go door-to-door in the coming weeks to solicit more participants. Also, Hoehne is expecting the village to send letters to employers on village stationary, which may draw more attention to the program.

One of the next steps will be evaluating the program, Hoehne said, particularly through the holiday shopping season.

“What I’m hearing is, especially during the holiday season, is when the demand for parking really goes up,” Hoehne said.

It’s entirely possible that a number of employees are making an effort not to use village parking lots or Madison Street spaces, but aren’t being counted as program participants. Connie Brown, a co-owner of the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, said there are five employees at her store following the program’s lead. However, none of them have received a sticker for their vehicle signifying they are participants in the program.

According to Hoehne, at least three other businesses have subscribed to the effort but they too, are not part of the official tally.

Meanwhile, the committee is still considering a proposal to start a street-wide valet program. Only three restaurants in the village offer valet services but committee member and Main Street President Art Sundry has solicited property owners who may have off-street parking to lend to the cause. At a recent meeting of the ad hoc group, members were told a valet program could move some 60 cars from public spaces to private lots during the peak hours on Friday and Saturday nights.