A South Side novelty shop received a friendly call from the authorities last week advising that its "official parking chairs" could lead to fines for anyone trying to use them to hold a parking spot.
Thus began an immediate Facebook stir. Little in Pittsburgh is more iconic than the parking chair. It's been a folk tradition for as long as anyone can remember, and we're entering prime parking-chair season. Burghers will stick old chairs in spots they've shoveled clear of snow, and pity the motorist who doesn't honor the curbside custom.
Yet a custom is all it is. It hasn't the force of law, even in a neighborhood that once used a chair in a parking space as the logo for the South Side Summer Street Spectacular. So when the Commonwealth Press at 1931 E. Carson St. got an official-sounding call Thursday afternoon suggesting that its official chair could unfold into a very expensive joke, store owner Dan Rugh posted this on Facebook:
"We were HONESTLY just contacted by the PITTSBURGH PARKING AUTHORITY -- notifying us that our parking chairs are not legal place holders. We assume everyone understood that these are novelty chairs and contain no magic power to them but apparently not. So this is our common sense disclaimer:
"If you use anything to hold a parking spot in the city of Pittsburgh you can be fined $300. That anything can be a novelty chair, a non novelty chair, a pallet, a cone, a stack of pizza boxes, a wooden horse, a real horse, a car tire, a child, a small box of items, a large box of items, a sled ...''
The store then asked for more suggestions of what to use to hold parking spots, and by the dozens they arrived, everything from "Mike Tomlin's leg'' to "the body of the last guy to park in my spot.''
I liked the way everyone was handling this, including the parking authority. I emailed Dave Onorato, the authority's executive director, to compliment him for being proactive. Then Mr. Onorato replied Friday morning that nobody from the authority had made that call.
"I wish I could take credit for it,'' he said after seeing a photo of the chairs. "I never heard of these chairs. I do like it. It would look nice in my office.''
I drove to the store Friday to let manager Marissa Mack know that she might have been pranked. She still had the name and number of the man who called, though, so I left a message on his machine to see if he could explain himself.
He could. He was Pittsburgh police Lt. Larry Scirotto of Zone 3, which covers the South Side. He said he'd called the store after getting an email about the chairs from the South Side Chamber of Commerce. He figured rightly that a potential "nightmare of an issue'' over a "funny yinzer type of decoration'' could be averted with one friendly conversation.
This is good police work; when Ms. Mack assured him the chairs would be sold with an appropriate disclaimer, all was cool. That $300 fine, by the way, would be for littering. "We consider it rubbish as soon as you surrender it to the roadway,'' Lt. Scirotto explained.
So use parking chairs at your own risk, fellow Pittsburghers, pretty much the way they've always been used. It should surprise no one that Commonwealth Press had a fine time with this fine threat.
This is the same store that had a brick thrown through its window in March and then auctioned it on Facebook to cover the cost of fixing it. (The remainder went to charity.)
It's the store with a phone message that says "Sorry for this weird robot voice. Press zero to talk to someone awesome.''
And it just sold me an "official Pierogie Pillow,'' a softer, larger version of this town's signature dumpling. (Mr. Rugh's mom, Anna Noble, sews them.)
By the way, the $35 parking chairs come in black and yellow. Mr. Rugh says the black one stands out best against the snow. I'd suggest that if the yellow one doesn't also stand out against the snow, find another spot.
Brian O'Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947.