The sudden enforcement of A-Frame sign regulations along King Street is disturbing. It’s a small issue but gets to the heart of whether we really are a business-friendly community. We need to be if we’re going to address our budget problems, fund our school capacity crisis and fix our sewers — to name but a few pressing issues.
As I walk King Street speaking to retailers about the Business Improvement District (BID) I’m hearing a lot of negative news about sales. City tax revenue records from the past few years show flat to declining sales. Do we want to turn this around?
What is the real issue here? Are there safety problems with the signs? If indeed the signs pose a safety issue, wouldn’t a better course of action be to regulate where they are located? A much greater safety problem is uneven bricks on the sidewalk. About once a year customers came into Bittersweet bleeding from having tripped over them.
These regulations have gone unenforced for many years and I cannot understand the sense of urgency given the output of the A-Frame sign task force which determined that a new program would be put in place for
businesses on side streets but has yet to be implemented. Granted the new program does not include businesses on King Street but the optics of enforcement now — prior to the holidays and before putting a new program on line — makes the city look insensitive to small business and those considering opening businesses here. Given the number of closings and empty retail spaces is this the best we can do?
This situation reminds me very much of 2008 when the city, in response to problems with outdoor seating over the winter, determined that all outdoor seating should be banned between Thanksgiving and April. This deprived the city of needed revenue, not to mention the vibrancy that outdoor seating brings. Eventually a way was found to address the problems without eliminating the seating all together during four months of the year — when the weather is often favorable to dining outdoors — and tax revenue.
The entire nature of retail is changing and Main Street businesses need all the help they can get. Many retailers post clever messages which visitors often photograph and then enter the establishment. Visitors riding the trolley can glimpse a passing sign and return later to shop or dine. Small business is about expressing one’s creativity and vision — why eliminate something that makes our community unique? The recent purge of buskers completes the impression that our city is to be made bland and boring.
Our city cannot cut its way to success. Young, innovative entrepreneurs must be attracted here to ensure our business districts continue to be vibrant, strong and encouraging locals and visitors to spend. This action has unintended consequences and needs to go back to the drawing board. Doing so would go some distance in making our small business community feel supported, rather than thwarted by city regulations.