PICO BLVD — For the past 10 years, a series of colorful painted window displays have greeted customers who enter a small mom and pop video rental store here, providing an outside preview of the eccentricities that await inside.
Painted by a long-time store employee, those windows feature recognizable characters from popular movies, some linking arms, others inviting patrons.
“Vidiots is a magical place full of movies about wizards, aliens, superheroes, robots, monkeys, cowboys, pirates, cops, and that’s just the documentary section,” a wizard, who is pointing a wand at an octopus, says in a painted display on a south-facing window.
Those displays might soon have to come down.
On April 1, the 24-year-old business received a letter from City Hall notifying it was in violation of a city code that limits temporary window signage to less than 20 percent of the total frontage glass area during only two, 30-day periods in any calendar year. The business was warned it could receive a $250 fine and face other repercussions if it doesn’t comply by May 1.
“My reaction was why now, it’s been here for 10 years,” Patricia Polinger, one of the co-owners of Vidiots, said.
Polinger was ready to remove the displays when she received the letter but was instead encouraged by her husband, who is an architect, to measure and see whether it falls under the 20 percent threshold, which she hasn’t determined.
“I don’t know if I have the grounds to fight it,” she said.
Vidiots was one of the many businesses that were monitored during a recent sweep by City Hall’s Code Enforcement Division, which has been conducting proactive check-ups on businesses periodically on the major thoroughfares, including Wilshire and Pico boulevards, focusing on compliance with the sign ordinance.
“The city has a long standing sign ordinance that helps protect against visual clutter,” Jack Leonard, the building official with City Hall, said. “It ensures the quality of life for the citizens.”
Members of the community have recently brought the issue of excessive signage to the attention of the City Council and other officials, Leonard added.
“Santa Monica is not Las Vegas,” he said. “They are really concerned about their community and we listen.”
Officials plan to follow up with the video store during another sweep to see if it’s in compliance.
Vidiots recently placed a petition on the counter of the store, inviting customers who enjoy the painted windows to show their support. About 300 people signed the petition in the first four days.
Cathy Tauber, the other co-owner of Vidiots, said she might submit the petition to City Hall. The paintings are the work of Patrick McGilligan, who started working at Vidiots about 15 years ago as a clerk and now serves as the assistant manager.
He changes the artwork every four months and is given creative freedom to paint whatever he wishes, spending about two to five days completing a project.
“I just do whatever I feel like doing, whatever comes out of my sick little head,” McGilligan said.
His favorite was a painting of an underwater scene that he completed several years ago.
“The customers love the windows,” he said. “I had a girl who told me that she has grown up with my windows.
“She is about 20 now and said ‘your windows are my total childhood.’”
The store was founded by two long-time best friends who have known each other since they were three years old, growing up in Los Angeles and graduating together from Hamilton High School. Tauber’s father used to own the bowling alley located just one block away. Vidiots has a collection of more than 40,000 DVD titles and is known for its selection of independent and foreign films.
The owners said they have not decided what actions to take and whether to appeal or scale the paintings down.
“Everybody loves those signs and people are always commenting on them,” Tauber said. “They add so much fun to the look of the store.”