By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) – Six weeks after the Cherry Creek Mall implemented a paid parking system, mall employees and at least one store owner say the pay parking scheme has crippled business.

“Traffic is only getting worse,” said Mike Murphy, who owns seven Steve Madden shoe stores, including his flagship location in the Cherry Creek mall.

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He says Cherry Creek mall used to be his number one store for sales, but now there are days where it ranks number seven for sales. He said that since the paid parking began, sales are down 20 percent.

Mike Murphy (credit: CBS)

Mike Murphy (credit: CBS)

After years of free parking, the mall implemented a “smart parking” system starting Jan. 17.

The first hour of parking is free, the next two hours cost $3 and the charges continue after that.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Mall managers say the paid parking was “essential” because so many non-mall customers were parking for free but not actually shopping.

Murphy says his customers can easily afford to pay the parking fees, but are choosing not to out of principle.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“A lot of people aren’t even coming to the mall. I don’t even have that opportunity because they aren’t here. I’m mad because my customers are mad. They’re the ones talking to me every day. I feel like I’m the one who should protect them.”

Gil Rudawsky, a spokesperson for the Cherry Creek mall, declined to discuss the CBS4 findings, saying that after a month of paid parking, it was too soon to draw conclusions about the impact of the new parking system.

He declined to be interviewed or issue a formal statement on behalf of the mall.

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A CBS4 producer recently traveled to the mall on a weekday with a hidden camera to see what employees were saying about the impact of the new parking fees.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

A mall employee said, “If anything you are actually hurting stores, people are rushing out just to make the free hour thing. Ever since this parking thing everyone wants to shop in other places.”

At a store inside the mall, an employee said the paid parking has “killed traffic. It sucks real bad. No one comes in.”

Elsewhere, at a snack stop, an employee told our producer, “the mall has been pretty dead ever since they started the paid parking.”

One store employee told CBS4 there has been a positive impact.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“I actually found it’s a lot better for us,” he said. “We don’t have so many people hanging around, the parking lot is a lot easier to navigate, it’s a little quieter.”

A new Facebook page started this week – “Cherry Creek Free Parking” – has already garnered hundreds of comments from people who say the pay system keeps them away from the mall.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Several commenters identifying themselves as employees at mall stores say the lack of foot traffic is now affecting the hours they work and their paychecks.

Murphy said the customers who he does see don’t linger or browse because they don’t want to spend more than an hour and incur parking fees.

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“They want to rush out the door,” said Murphy.

Brian Maass