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Proliferation of sandwich-board signs raises concerns
Vashon’s Chamber of Commerce has begun working with business owners in an effort to end the proliferation of sandwich-board signs in Vashon town and along the highway — now that the organization has discovered such signage violates King County code.
A humor column in The Beachcomber last month took aim at the mushrooming signs, suggesting the advertising device had gotten out of hand on bucolic Vashon. Neither the columnist nor anyone else at The Beachcomber knew at the time that the popular A-frame signs violated county code.
A county employee, however, apparently saw the column and looked into it, said Jim Didrickson, a supervisor with the county’s Department of Transportation who lives and works on Vashon. A few days later, he got a call reminding him that it’s his job to enforce the provision, which he has done off and on over the years.
“Technically, I could just go and remove them all. But in 30 days, they’d all be back. It’s happened before,” he said.
Instead, Didrickson and chamber officials began discussing the situation — and last week, in an effort to explore possible solutions, they held a meeting with merchants and other sign-users to vet the issue.
The problem with such signs, Didrickson told the 15 or so people who attended Thursday’s meeting at Sound Food, is that they’re often blocking the sidewalks, impeding pedestrians and creating possible hazards. If someone were to fall and get hurt, Didrickson added, he or she could sue the county, a claim taxpayers would ultimately have to pay.
“Why do we want to wait until someone gets hurt?” he asked the group.
The signage has gotten more and more popular over the years. Lee Ockinga, the chamber’s executive director, told the group that she and citizen activist Hilary Emmer drove the highway counting signs last week and found 57 different businesses between Cove Road and S.W. 204th Street with A-frame signs advertising their services. Some businesses had more than one A-frame sign displayed.
“They’re all illegal,” she told the group. “It doesn’t matter if they’re on private property or not.”
But some at the meeting took issue with the concerns, noting that the signs are an effective way to let Islanders know they’re open for business or to advertise a special.
Kip Bonds, operations manager for Island Market, said that when pork prices fall and his store buys a large quantity, the company needs to let customers know the meat is on special. “And the only way to let people know is to put it on our sign,” he said, referring to an A-frame sign at the corner of the store’s large parking lot.
Jackie Merrill, who owns Movie Magic, said she, too, finds the signs helpful. “I put my A-board out to let people know when I’m open, and I bring it in when I’m closed,” she said.
Deborah Richards, who works for the chamber, suggested that Island businesses consider putting flags out that let people know when they’re open. Others said that perhaps the situation would seem less egregious to the county if they only had one sign out and if they made sure to bring it in at night.
After much discussion, the county and the chamber agreed to an interim plan — with the idea that they’ll eventually ask businesses to eliminate sandwich-board signs altogether.
Because safety is the most important issue, the chamber, in a letter it sent out to businesses this week, asks sign-owners to make sure their sandwich boards are not on the sidewalk impeding pedestrians or in road shoulders where cars might be parked. What’s more, according to the interim plan, signs should come in when the business is closed, and each business should have only one such sign.
Didrickson said he believes others in county government will support this approach. “I think it takes time. I think community input is important for any decision by King County,” he said.
But some are frustrated with the potential end of sandwich-board signs and are unhappy that The Beachcomber brought the issue to the county’s attention — even if it did so unwittingly.
“I’m concerned about the impact to the business community as a whole. If King County is forced to enforce their regulations, I think it’s going to hurt the town,: said Paul Robinson of Island Quilter, which has such a sign. “I just don’t understand the motivation for making this a big deal.”
Linda Bianchi, president of the chamber, however, said she’s glad The Beachcomber raised the issue. At first, there was a lot of grumbling about the paper’s column. But then others, she said, began to look around at all the signs, too.
“It had kind of gotten out of control,” she said.
Businesses are invited to the next discussion about signs at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, at Sound Food.