Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City gets national RV black eye, boycott possible

Early Thursday morning the Observer received a phone call from Craig Womer in Atlanta. While watching the weather on Fox Cable News, Mr. Womer reported that during the weather forecast, Lake City's recent decision to enforce a ban on overnight parking in the Walmart parking lot came up. Mr. Womer said the Fox conversation went something like this: Be aware, if you're going to Florida to get away from the cold and you are accustomed to spending the night in a Walmart parking lot, Lake City is enforcing a ban on overnight parking.

View from former RV parking area at Walmart in Lake City
The view from the former RV parking area at the Lake City Walmart. It is not exactly the Grand Canyon.

The Walmart in Lake City is located on Highway US 90 about a mile from I - 75. It is not close to any residential areas and is in easy walking distance to many of the areas shops and restaurants. The parking lot is well off the main drag, on a dead end street and the RV's are only visible to the folks using Walmart and Lowes, which is across the road.

The last time this issue came up was in 2006. Scott Reynolds, the Lake City Manager at the time, refused to enforce the ordinance. Many people thought this was common sense and other than some rumblings by Cecil Shaw, the owner of an RV campground a few miles down the road, the situation remained quiet. The RV'ers, other than the occasional misfit utilizing the Walmart parking lot, were good neighbors and everybody benefited.

A few months ago it was reported to the Observer that signs were going up around the Walmart parking lot that said overnight parking is prohibited. There were e-mails and phone calls going back and forth between Lake City and Colorado discussing this development. No one could see the sense of it and there was reported talk of a nationwide RV boycott of Lake City.

The word was getting out

On Monday January 24, 2011 the word was getting out in the RV world about the recent enforcement of the parking ban in Lake City. At 7:30 p.m., Columbia County's Director of Tourism, Harvey Campbell, received the following e-mail:

We are currently camping in Miami. The day before we left home (Wednesday) our granddaughter came to see us after supper and let us know there were No Overnight Parking (NOP) signs going up in the Walmart parking lot.
I called the Walmart and learned they were 'forced' to put up the signs, but that they would allow folks to stay overnight as usual. They added the local police could enforce the NOP. When did this all come about?

Check out walmartrving@yahoo.com if you don't think lots of folks don't use Walmart for sleeping. Many folks plan their snowbird trips from up North each year down to Florida in their RVs in order to arrive a.s.a.p. as freezing can be an issue along the way, even in N. Florida.

Many plan their stops at Walmart for sleeping only. They spend money at local restaurants and shops wanting to stretch their legs after long drives (and not wanting to unhook their towed vehicles in order to drive to a restaurant).

These folks will not utilize any local campground, as news of this NOP at our Walmart has already spread. They will simply plan their sleep spot at another Walmart or Cracker Barrel, Sam's Club, Flying J. etc. and so the restaurants and shops will lose money, and the local campground will gain nothing either.

I wish we could make the Council or whoever made the shortsighted rules to stop overnight parking at Walmart. I might add it smacks of government involving itself where it has no business, unless it is a health or safety issue--which I doubt.

Having RVs in the parking lot actually makes it a lot safer--more eyes with cell phones close at hand.

Do you know anything about this that might be helpful?

Frank & Jeannie

The Director of Tourism responds

On Wednesday, January 26th, Director Campbell responded:

The City of Lake City and Columbia County have a NOP [no overnight parking] ordinance and it has been in effect for a decade or longer. It has never been enforced.
The mall has signs up. It has never been an issue there.
Walmart has a national "RV Friendly" policy/practice by which they welcome people to stay overnight in their parking lots. It's smart marketing on their part since the RV folks will come into the store and resupply their needs. In probably all but rare issues, this is not displacing or causing parking problems in the parking lot.
The RV folks, especially in locations with 24 hour Walmart, consider it a safe place to stay, convenient to shop and they're not being hassled. The Lake City location is particularly attractive because of its proximity to I-75. Obviously, another plus is they are not paying anything to camp.
The local campground industry started fussing about three years ago. They feel like they are licensed for overnight camping, Walmart is not. They are charged tax, impact fees and fire assessments for each spot, whether it is occupied or vacant. There have been a couple of isolated situations where holding tanks were accidently flushed in the Walmart parking lot here. The bottom line, they believe there is an ordinance on the books, it isn't being enforced, and they are losing money out of their cash registers.
Walmart's national policy is to abide by any local city or county ordinance which prohibits overnight camping in their parking lot. They are willing to put up signs, but will not spend money or time to enforce the ordinance. They believe that is the responsibility of the governing city or county law enforcement. There has been nothing new publicized about this issue since early last year. Walmart has recently put up the signs, but nobody is enforcing it and RVs are in the parking lot every night.
I do know of examples around the country where RV groups have used e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook to create informal boycotts of communities that aggressively pursue a NOP ordinance. I don't know the answer, but would welcome and appreciate a solution. I spoke with the Florida Campground Association a couple of weeks ago and they suggested the campground owners should bring legal action against Lake City.
I do have a strong feeling about one issue. If you have an ordinance on the books, you have to enforce it, or you undermine the respect the citizens have for all ordinances. If the ordinance is on the books, enforce it. If you're not going to enforce the ordinance, get it off the books.


Before this ban was enforced, by 10:00 a.m. on most days there were no RVs in the Walmart parking lot, which may have led one to the conclusion that they were either on their way to their destination or looking for a campground in the area, as hospitality does have its dividends.

In Lake City, at least for now, it appears those days are over with the kibosh on and the good-will off.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Jan 29, 2011, Martha of Three Rivers commented:

I think I would plan my day to just go right on to Georgia and Park somewhere.  This is terrible of Mr. Shaw.  I certainly would not park in his campground.


On Jan 30, 2011, A Life in Lake City wrote:

Once again there are documented repercussions when one person seeks to change the way things are to benefit only one person and their agenda. The news that was generated and travels the Web will not help Lake City.  Another thorn has been stuck in the community. The action made the Atlanta news and will be  comic food for the staff writers on the Jay Leno Show.   It has festered and will magnify and not to the benefit of those here who have business operations.   Mr. Cecil Shaw, shame on you.  You wanted persons who were camping or stopping at Walmart to spend their dollars at  your facility or other RV facilities ...maybe you should charge less to camp and follow the Walmart marketing strategies.

I believe your actions have backfired.  Shame on you!


On Jan 31, 2010, USMC 1963 wrote:

What happened to what used to be good old Lake City, Fla?
It seems as tho it will be renamed, Shaw-ville, Fla. From now on.
Seems as if one man is running the city by running al the Rv's out of Lake City, because of a sin called greed.
He and Lake City will all pay in the long run. May God be with you all.


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