It's as much a Christmas tradition as opening presents or kissing under the mistletoe – every holiday season drivers test their patience and sanity by circling the mall, searching desperately for a parking spot.
But a tony West Vancouver shopping centre is trying to minimize the behind-the-wheel frenzy by launching a radio station dedicated to helping its customers find parking.
Rick Amantea, vice-president of Park Royal, believes his mall is the first in Canada to undertake such a venture.
"The goal is just to give people information so that when they come to the property they can make a decision quickly and not get frustrated, as we all do during Christmas, driving up and down the aisles trying to find that one lucky spot where somebody's pulling out," he said.
The low-wattage radio station will go live Dec. 8 on 92.5 FM.
Mr. Amantea said broadcasters will be able to watch traffic move across the 60-acre property through about 30 surveillance cameras. They'll also receive reports from parking and security staff.
The plan isn't to announce a single open space outside Chapters so 10 vehicles can screech toward it, Mr. Amantea said. Broadcasters will instead speak generally about which areas of the nearly 6,000-space lot drivers are likely to have luck in.
"The information will be, 'we have parking available in Area B, which is next to Future Shop.'… Or, 'the parking in front of such-and-such store has cars waiting so you might want to find an alternative place to park.' "
Park Royal's design is somewhat unconventional by mall standards. The north side of the mall is located across the street from the south, and a third section, called the village, is farther west.
The mall – which offers 280 shops, restaurants, and services – is also a short distance from the Lions Gate Bridge, a critical span into downtown Vancouver. Traffic snarls in the area are common, even without the added rush of the holiday season.
Mr. Amantea said the radio station is expected to cost about $20,000 for the month of December, including equipment and staffing. It's unclear what role it will have once the holiday season is over.
"We're certainly equipping ourselves to do it year-round. Obviously running it on lighter traffic days, like Monday and Tuesday, might not make a lot of sense."
He said Park Royal does not plan to sell on-air advertising, but will communicate any special events that might be going on inside the mall. Park Royal will also be offering valet service for those who want no part of the parking-lot mayhem.
Artie Chumpol, spokeswoman for Metropolis at Metrotown, B.C.'s largest shopping centre, called Park Royal's radio station a "great idea." She said it's the first time she's heard of a mall doing such a thing. Metrotown does not have a similar operation in the works.