Steveston merchants call foul over city's sandwich board threat

Steveston merchants are appealing for common sense from the City of Richmond after a bylaw officer threatened them with a $1,000 fine if they didn’t take their sandwich boards off the sidewalk.

Some of the small business owners have been using their boards as the first point of contact with customers for more than a decade, without attracting any complaints or attention from the city’s bylaw department.

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But just last week, a group of them - mostly on Chatham Street and its side-streets – were paid a visit by bylaws and told in no uncertain terms to remove the boards, as per the city’s sign bylaw, which prohibits sandwich boards from being placed on city property beyond the first 30 days of a new business.

If they didn’t remove the boards, some of which cost up to $500 to make, they could be facing a fine of up to $1,000.

“I’ve been here for five years; I’ve had the sandwich board on the sidewalk all that time and it has brought me a substantial amount of customers,” said Doina Lazar, of Diona’s All-Season Tailoring, at Heritage Market Shops on No. 1 Road.

“I’m on the second floor, in a small village. How am I supposed to let people know I’m here? I’m upstairs.

“This will affect me big time. My lease is coming up in May and now I’m debating whether I should renew or not, now that I’m restricted.”

Keiran Flaherty, owner of The Sweet Spot on the corner of First Avenue and Chatham, has been putting out a sandwich board for the best part of the nine years he’s been there.

“(The bylaw officer) came last week and said we had until the end of the week to take down the sign. All of Moncton (businesses) still have their signs? She said she didn’t get around to talking to everybody,” Flaherty told the Richmond News on Friday.

“I’ve never had any complaints, until bylaws came in last week.”

Flaherty said having sandwich boards out for small, side-street businesses is “pretty important. We’re right on the corner, so sometimes you can’t see us if you’re driving by.

“It’s a business, with a beautiful sandwich board, we need it. It’s kind of an extension of the business.

“There are quite a few businesses (in Steveston) that are kind of hidden and they rely on this kind of signage.”

Other business owners, such as The British Store’s Elly Fenton, said the sandwich board she placed out on the sidewalk pretty much paid for itself during one recent holiday weekend.

“People don’t know we’re here, especially the tourists coming in for the first time,” said Fenton.

Steveston Barbers’ Iain Mackelworth got a similar visit from bylaws a couple of years ago and was told he needed to move his board about 10 feet, from the city-owned sidewalk onto his own property.

“It’s probably more in the way here than it is over there,” laughed Mackelworth.

“I’m led to believe this is from one complaint? It’s funny how the city listens to just one person, instead of the majority of the people in business down here that rely on simple advertising tools.”

Mackelworth added that, if the city is going to listen to the “one or two-per centers,” it’s going to have to consider the impact it will have one the “delicate economy” in Steveston.

“Steveston is kind of a cul-de-sac. Businesses down here have really got to work very hard to get people in. They need these signs.”

Mackelworth’s colleague, Ryan Lewis, said that he understands the city has a duty to manage public property and safety, “it’s just unfortunate that there was not any type of consultation or attempt at compromise with the businesses in Steveston.

“I’m positive if we put our heads together we can come up with something. But the city is getting the exact response from local business they don’t want and it could have been avoided with proper consultation.”

Laura Stapleton – who owns The Fab Pad vintage furniture and décor store on Moncton Street, but is also on the board at the Steveston Merchants Association (SMA) – said the SMA called the city on Wednesday to talk about the problem.

“We are hoping there is a more economical or efficient way for the merchants to have way-finding signs on each corner, directing people to the businesses down side-streets, in particular. A Steveston-specific solution.”

Asked why the city was now clamping down on sandwich boards in Steveston, after no activity in many years, city spokesperson Clay Adams said “complaints are not predictable and can come forward for a variety of reasons.

“In many cases, we never know the reason for the timing, but the city responds to them within the framework of applying the applicable bylaw.”

Adams added that the city is always willing to sit down to discuss concerns and solutions, with the likes of the SMA, but was not “aware of any formal request coming forward at this time.”

He said the sign bylaw “has been a long standing bylaw requirement, primarily for the safety of pedestrians and other activities and demands on public property.”

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