MAIN LIBRARY — Placing a sidewalk sign in front of a business to advertise sale items or a restaurant’s daily specials can be a great way to draw in customers. It’s also illegal in Santa Monica.

Now, a group of merchants that has been pushing to overturn City Hall’s ban on the A-frame or sandwich board signs for more than a year is hoping that the lagging retail economy will help gather momentum for their cause.

Gary Gordon, head of the Main Street Business Improvement Association is leading the charge. During a meeting with City Hall planners at the Main Library on Tuesday to discuss possible revisions to Santa Monica’s sign code, he said a more permissive ordinance could make a big difference, especially for mom-and-pop shops that need low-cost ways to advertise and are struggling to stay in business.

“The A-frames are a tool — they are a tool that is overwhelmingly desired by the merchant community,” he said.

So far, City Hall planners aren’t ready to go there, though they said they’re still mulling whether to recommend allowing sidewalk signs.

Laura Beck, an associate planner, on Tuesday led a presentation of City Hall’s initial thinking, indicating a willingness to allow shops slightly more signage, for instance by reducing restrictions on “blade signs” — or signs that project from a storefront perpendicular to the sidewalk.

That idea got a luke-warm reception from the 30 or so business people who showed up on Tuesday. Several attendees said blade signs are costly and don’t serve the same purpose as sidewalk signs, which are easy to update with new information.

City planners have yet to analyze whether it’s advisable to allow sidewalk signs.

“We are looking at it. We have internal meetings set up to discuss it more fully, but we have to look at issues of the right-of-way and impeding the-right-of-way,” Beck said. “When you’re putting things on the city sidewalk, there’s a lot of issues.”

The City Council in November of 2009 directed planners to look into changing the sign ordinance in response to complaints from merchants who said the status quo was overly restrictive.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first opportunity for merchants to provide input on planners’ deliberations.

While Gordon said shop owners’ main demand is for the right to display sidewalk signs, he also said City Hall should drop some restrictions on sidewalk sales.

“If a store can stay in business and can continue to contribute to the community by putting a rack of clothes outside with a 50 percent off [sign], then you need to allow that,” he said

The City Council will have the final say on whether to alter the sign ordinance. Beck said she expects the issue to come before the council within the next several months.

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