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The sticky wicket of downtown sandwich boards

fr waynesvillesignsSigns are businesses’ equivalent to nuclear weapons.

“Everybody wants them, but you have to agree to live with them,” said Waynesville Town Planner Paul Benson. “I think what we need is a consensus on what is a reasonable approach.”


The Waynesville planning board Monday night held a public hearing to gauge Main Street, Frog Level and Hazelwood business owners’ opinions of portable business signs, those folding sandwich boards put out on sidewalks to lure passersby into restaurants and shops.

The two-side, collapsible signs can be seen outside a number of businesses, such as Main Street Perks, Tipping Point Brewing and Bourbon Barrel Beef and Ale. They are also illegal under current town zoning standards.

But Waynesville building inspectors have a difficult time enforcing the code. Every once in a while, they will crack down on the signs. For a while, they will disappear, but the signs always come back.

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“These sign boards crop up consistently,” said Building Inspector Jason Rogers. “It’s really hard to enforce.”

While making the sandwich boards legal in the three main small business areas — Main Street, Frog Level and Hazelwood — would make life easier for the inspectors and make some merchants happy, the town planning board also doesn’t want the quaint downtown streetscape to become littered with signage.

“If we open this Pandora’s box and we’ve got every business down Main Street putting a sign out, then it becomes an issue. It would certainly restrict walking,” said Jon Feichter, a planning board member and downtown business owner himself.

However, Benson countered that there would not likely be a huge influx of new signs since the town hasn’t really been enforcing the sandwich board ban anyway.

 “I have a feeling all the ones who want to do it are already doing it,” Benson said.

The signs by restaurants often display menu offerings and specials for curious passersby.

“For us, it adds a little bit of character to Main Street for these restaurants to show their specials,” said John Keith, who co-owns Twig and Leaves with his wife. “We have eaten at just about every restaurant downtown just because what’s on that sign.”

But if the signs were officially deemed legal, more could start using them.

Some shops use sandwich boards to direct people to a business off the beaten path.

Sunburst Trout has a storefront on Montgomery Street, a block off Main. Unless someone is in the know or stumbles upon it, the shop could be passed over, so Katie Eason Hughes, who manages it, has taken to carrying a sandwich board up to Main Street and setting in the sidewalk at the corner of Main and Miller streets to direct people down to Sunburst Trout.

“I had no clue you were back here until I saw the sign,” Hughes said relying what she hears a number of customers tell her.

She asked the board to consider businesses like hers that would be lost without some kind of way-finding sign.

Richard Miller, owner of the Wine Cellar, expressed a similar sentiment about businesses on Depot and Church streets, which run perpendicular to Main.

“They need signs to draw people around the corner,” said Miller, who had a hanging sign installed above The Kitchen Shop on the corner of Main and Church street informing people about his business. “It makes a difference for people who look and say ‘What’s down there?’”

One possible solution would be installing a public pole on street corners with signs for businesses just off the main streets. It would help prevent the sidewalk from becoming cluttered with rogue sandwich board signs. It would also keep another business owner from putting a sign for their store in front of someone else’s shop.

“I wouldn’t want a bunch of signs in front of my storefront that I have no control over,” Keith said.

As for the businesses along Main Street, Hazelwood Avenue and Commerce Street, the town would need to put some restrictions in place — the planning board is just not sure exactly what though. 

If portable signs are allowed, leaders will need to set regulations to keep in compliance with ADA requirements. Sidewalks must have an unobstructed, four-foot path, and entrances and exits must be kept clear.

“I think we have to be really strict about not blocking that sidewalk,” said Buffy Phillips, head of the Downtown Waynesville Association.

The planning board also debated whether to allow businesses with permanent, freestanding signs to have a sandwich board as well. Anthony Wayne’s on Church Street, for example, has a permanent sign already posted outside its building. Depending on what is passed, the regulations could prohibit the restaurant from posting a temporary sign with its specials, which could cause the owners to cry foul.

“Essentially we are saying everybody but you. They are going to feel slighted,” Feichter said.

The portable signs are meant to be nonpermanent fixtures.

“We want it to be something that is truly temporary,” Benson said.

At the end of the meeting, the planning board instructed Benson to look into what other towns’ sign policies are, with an eye toward size, material and placement restrictions.

“We have got to study it,” said Planning Board member Marty Prevost.

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