Waterbury florist closes after parking dispute with city

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WATERBURY- A Waterbury florist has closed her business citing "excessive parking tickets" and a lack of support from the city.

FoxCT first interviewed Susan Van Der Veer Occhino on January 22nd when the city placed a boot on her delivery truck in response to months of unpaid parking tickets.

Occhino argued that the city's parking authority was overly aggressive in its ticketing practices and gave her company vehicles tickets, despite a 10-minute parking pass provided by the city.

"I had to make the decision of like buying flowers for valentines day or paying my bills, or getting the truck out," said Occhino.

Day after day, holding fees stacked up for the truck at the pound, totaling more than $1,000.

She decided to buy flowers to sell for Valentine's Day, but with the snowfall and without her still-impounded 4x4 truck, deliveries were near impossible. She lost hundreds in potential revenue.

She shuttered her shop on March 1st.

But Occhino said the problem is bigger than the tickets- that it goes back to the spring of last year, when she was diagnosed with cancer,  couldn't work, and missed three payments on her small-business loan from the city.

"I told the Waterbury Development Corporation in May that I had cancer. They slapped a lawsuit on me."

Occhino said a lawsuit was mailed to her in September.

Prior to the monetary shortfall, Susan was commended by the state for her business efforts with a proclamation from the general assembly and said Waterbury used her as "a poster child for Grand St. business development".

"Through all this crap, I still like Waterbury. But I feel that Waterbury doesn't love me anymore for some reason. I must have done something wrong. Maybe my flowers were not pretty enough," said Occhino.

Her husband, Al Occhino, believes city officials didn't support the business the way they should have.

"For somebody who loves Waterbury that much, she has no support from the people from the top to the bottom," he said.

FoxCT reached out to Mayor O'Leary's office for comment but the Mayor's Chief of Staff had Deputy Chief Fred Spagnolo address the accusation, that "aggressive ticketing is harming downtown businesses".

"We don't want businesses to leave the city at all whether they're on Grand St. or the outskirts, however, we do have to regulate parking," said Spagnolo.

He pulled parking records and said that Occhino received eight parking tickets between April 2014 and October 2014.

Spagnolo said three of those tickets were not on Grand Street, but five of them were on the same street as the business.

He said the tickets totaled $190 in fines.

"Her going out of business, would be attributed more to other issues than just parking enforcement," said Spagnolo.

Occhino has stage-2 cancer and is undergoing chemo-therapy in preparation for an operation.

She plans to continue operating her online flower business at http://www.dutchflowerlady.com and to consider the storefront once she has recovered.

She's also set up a GoFundMe page titled "Flowers Beat Cancer" where she is selling flowers.