CITY HALL — Since June 2011, Frank Strauss, proprietor of Fedora Primo, has been able to breathe easy.

Not once in the last nine months have city officials stopped by his door to remind him that the sign and hat stand outside of his business on the 200 block of Pier Street are illegal.

Gone are the days of written warnings and threats of monetary damages concerning the sign sticking out from the side of his building … or at least they’re on pause.

Businesses in the Main Street Business Improvement District have had a nine-month reprieve on City Hall rules banning removable signs on private property, a pilot project that is set to expire on March 31.

The City Council will have the opportunity to extend the relaxation of the rules into the summer at its March 27 council meeting, something Strauss, for one, hopes they will take full advantage of.

Although the rules were loosely enforced for over a year before the council’s May vote, the study that caused the détente was only supposed to last four months.

The official pause on enforcement has been helpful because the sign and hat rack help attract passersby to his store, which is a little ways off Main Street’s “beaten track.”

“I had a sign on the corner that I keep hearing isn’t allowed … It just says ‘Hats’ and points down the block,” Strauss said. “It’s invaluable.”

People come into the store on a whim, or because of a party they’re going to in a few weeks or what have you, Strauss said.

“Racks and signage are really important in front of my store,” he said.

The signs and merchandise have long run afoul of code enforcement officials because they’re technically not allowed on either public or private property under the municipal code.

The City Council voted to temporarily allow signage on private property, including signs attached to buildings that project out into the street or box signs attached to the side of a building, best used to display restaurant menus.

Even under the relaxed rules, they aren’t allowed on public land because, according to past staff reports, popular portable signs — also called A-frame or sandwich signs — take up too much space on sidewalks and get in the way.

In addition, permitting signs in the public right of way opens the door to signs for a wide range of purposes that have nothing to do with business because of free speech protections on public property.

If businesses have signs, so can food trucks, religious groups and political groups.

Still, the ability to put out signs has been extremely helpful to businesses who are still hurting from the long recession and tepid recovery, and the discovery that they may have to give up the signs at the end of March came a bit out of the blue.

“Tell them to stay lightened up on the issue, because we really need it,” Strauss said.

ashley@smdp.com

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