SANFORD — It's happening across the state and the country -- old, historic downtowns are having to compete with strip malls and discount stores.
But in Sanford, downtown merchants say they're competing with churches for parking and retail space.
O'Connell's grocery store has been on Main street in the Jonesboro section of Sanford for 80 years. But churches occupying empty retail spaces are a newer addition.
"We're in a downtown development with such limited parking," says grocery store owner Chris Stone.
Stone wants the churches to move. He says a funeral can shut the whole street down for an entire afternoon.
"It really puts a damper on our business, this is our livelihood," Stone says. "I don't have another way to make income, so when it comes to supporting our families, this is what we have to do."
Complaints have landed at the zoning department. "We handle zoning complaints on a complaint by complaint basis."
The city says storefront churches violate a 1980 zoning law.
They're supposed to be on at least two acres of land. The city is asking them to move.
"They're not contributing to bringing business to the downtown area," says city planner Ron Satterfield.
Pastors and members of storefront churches like this one and the one across the street won't talk about the situation on camera. But town leaders the storefront churches are not happy about being asked to move.
The city has agreed to relax zoning laws to make it easier for them to relocate to another area.
Sanford will hold a public hearing on March 16 to discuss the new zoning proposals.