This great 1971 song by Five Man Electrical Band (aka. the Staccatos) could be written about Codes today. Codes are wonderful things that help us all live together. Unfortunately, codes can be written to ENcourage great living or DIScourage poor conduct.
In doing our homework, the issue of sandwich board signs is NOT a new issue for Town Governments.
"Small business owners across the USA, looking for any edge in today's sluggish economy, are turning to inexpensive, portable sandwich board signs in front of their shops, forcing cities and towns to weigh business needs with safety and aesthetic concerns." (Stefanie Frith, Towns confront sandwich board signs, USA TODAY, 4/29/2008 12:28 AM)
In the same article, co-owner of Cactusberry frozen yogurt, Rodolfo Castillo, in downtown Palm Springs, said he has been cited four times for his sandwich board but doesn't care because he has to let people know he is open. "My business drops 50% if that sign is not on the street," Castillo said. We feel your pain Mr. Castillo.
Signs are an interesting invention. They are a form of communication. Their single most important function is to simply serve as a reminder. Many of our customers have heard about us somewhere else, whether through a friend, or an article. We are bombarded with loads of information every day, and from many sources. But there is NOTHING like a sign placed during hours of operation to say, “Hey! We’re here and we’re OPEN!” What’s more is that we have had people come by on other days who have said, “We didn’t see the sign and thought you were done for the year.”
Without straying too far from the issue, the background story here is that many folks have looked at this building over the years and a few have owned it. We are the only ones since it closed who have actually put together a business plan and begun, albeit small, to develop it into what we hope will become a wonderful asset to the Community. That takes initiative, risk, a fair amount of support, and perhaps a bit of stubbornness on our parts to ignore the comments like “That will never fly in Mount Jackson.”
As a new business, we don't have the deep pockets that others have. We haven't made a dime on the project yet, and don't expect to for quite some time. In fact, the Town will make more money on this project initially than we will through various taxes! Thanks to Town Council, we have to pay $200 starting next Spring to have vendors set up outside.
In doing a bit of homework, we have found that many other small communities have rolled up their sleeves, discussed the issue of sandwich board signs, and come up with some very ENCOURAGING codes that meet both the businesses needs and the Towns’ desires.
In Easthampton, Massachusetts, the new codes related to such signage start out with “If carefully regulated the placement of signs on city sidewalks by private individuals can provide a useful outlet for the expression of ideas and communication of information related to beneficial commercial activity…” WOW! That says a lot about the Town’s view on Economic Development.
Their code goes on to read, “It is the desire of the City Council to enact standards that would allow for the regulated use of city sidewalks and areas near public ways for these communication purposes” and “it is not the intention of the City Council to regulate the content of messages on signs to be placed on public property, but instead, it is the City Council’s intention to enact reasonable time, place and manner restrictions aimed at insuring the safety of those using the public sidewalks and those driving on adjacent streets, and to achieve the city’s aesthetic interests by reducing visual clutter that would result from the unregulated posting of signs.”
That’s right. This town, and many others, actually ALLOW signs in the public right-of-way, and view signs as an asset rather than a liability.
Mobile, Alabama amended its codes in 2008 to allow sandwich boards in response to the 20 new restaurants that were putting menu boards in front of their stores. City Council Vice President Fred Richardson said, "If the city starts looking too tacky, we'll go back and look at it." Towns are ever-changing, living entities, just like people and businesses. Councils need to remain flexible or like any living thing, Towns can die.
City Councilwoman Linda Bennett of Chattanooga, Tennessee said, "We have to protect the public right of way, but meet the needs of the merchants to advertise their business."
So what about the argument: “If off premise signs are allowed, there will be signs everywhere.” By our count, there are approximately 30 businesses in the historic downtown core. Even if off-premise signs are allowed, it is highly unlikely that EVERY business will use an off-premise sign. Off-premise sandwich board type signs are used mostly by retail businesses. Most professional businesses do not use this kind of signage.
Lastly, in our defense, we did NOT place signs “in the middle of the sidewalk” as one commenter on our blog suggested. We placed signs to one side of the sidewalk, allowing for ample room for pedestrians to pass. As we have pointed out, pennants are also currently prohibited by the Code, even attached to a storefront, and it can be argued that the reason for this prohibition is that they hang over the public right-of-way and create a liability as well.
The Town Council Meeting is this week, Tuesday, at 7:30 PM at the Town Hall for anyone who wants to come and support our request to amend the Codes in regards to off-premise signs and Sandwich board signs. We are only asking that off-premise signs be allowed during hours of operation, and that the code contain a clause that requires the signs to be removed at the close of business, and perhaps no later than 9pm.