Business owners again express concern, frustration over process
By Joshua Maloni
“Sandwich board” signs will again be discussed by elected leaders in the Village of Lewiston, when the Board of Trustees hosts a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 20, at the Red Brick Municipal Building, 145 N. Fourth St.
The current text of a new proposed law can be found at the bottom of this article.
“Sandwich board” sign regulations were relaxed during the pandemic.
Though Mayor Anne Welch and Planning Commission Chairman Norm Machelor and Vice Chairwoman Doreen Albee said the intent of the new law is to allow “sandwich board” signs in certain circumstances, business owners are concerned curtailing the outside marketing will hinder their ability to draw-in passersby.
At this past Monday’s Planning Board meeting, Center Street resident and Fine Antiques owner Ron Craft said that, when he moved here in 2005, “We had plenty of retail. Now, we have hardly any. I have people come into my shop (and ask), ‘Where are the shops?’ They don’t want to drink. They don’t want to listen to a band. Parking is gone. The shops are gone. Now, you’re going to turn around and put something else on the shop owners that are here, when it's hard enough to make a living.”
He added, “When you have visitors, and you have specialties, you’ve got to have something to draw them into the shop.”
Viva Nostalgia owner Roger Passero reiterated his recently published concerns.
“The problem, some of it, is that everybody doesn't know, really, what's going on. … You can't possibly really know what's going on with the business people,” he said.
Passero noted he sees patterns in Lewiston that he found in Patchogue, New York, when he left there six years ago.
“It was a little more of a city than this, but it had the same idea. It had all the small stores, the big antique store that brought people to town, a couple of nice restaurants and bars. Well, after a while, the landlords found that, if they got more restaurants and bars, they could get more money, and started squeezing out the little stores by raising rents so that those stores couldn't afford (it). And little by little, the retail went away.
“Retail is very important in a village like this. The restaurants are great. But, when people come here (from around the country) … they do not come here to eat at a restaurant. They come here because we have a really fine selection – or we did. We're starting to shrink, and this is what scares me – because I feel like I'm seeing the same thing again – is we're losing retail.”
He added, “We’re fighting to get people in a store, and that is what this is all about. It's not about wanting to get you people mad, or to make the loudest signs, whatever. It's just that we're fighting to get people in.”
Leandra Collesano, whose Center Street store, Lewiston Love, is closing, said, “We did our best business during COVID, believe it or not. It's been down every year since then. People were flush. They were supporting local. They're not doing that anymore. And we're all fighting, fighting to stay alive.
“We have a sandwich board; it's up against our building; and it's worked wonders. I have people that I know they've read it because, when they're coming in, they're still saying what's on the board when they come in. It's drawing people in.
“I think it's something we can definitely work on (with the boards). I think it's something that should be considered, and come to some sort of compromise to make it work, because it's a useful tool for retailers on Center Street.”
Machelor said, “We tried to come up with what we thought were several answers – and this has been going on for a couple months now – proposing ideas of how to allow ‘sandwich boards.’ ”
He said sign enforcement is “a big job,” and one that isn’t easily accomplished. Therefore, “Our recommendation to the Village Board is to say signboards aren’t permitted unless there’s special circumstances.”
Machelor explained, “If you have a special circumstance that your business is in such a place or is such a type of business or whatever, that you can justify to the Planning Board that you, among all the businesses, need a ‘sandwich board,’ then we can recommend that to the Village Board, and they can say, ‘Yes, we're going to make an exception in your case,’ and let you have that.
“That's it. We did not recommend an overall plan to allow businesses to have ‘sandwich boards’ under 15 different regulations, and size, shapes, colors, locations, everything about it. It was just too complicated.”
Albee said, “The existing code, right now … does not allow any ‘sandwich board’ signs at all, in private or public areas. So, it was an endeavor to try to assist the retail businesses in some way, shape or form.”
Welch said, “Right now, the village code states no sandwich boards are permitted. So, we have to change the law. That's the reason for the public hearing. Public hearings are for public input, to get your input on how you feel about it, and what you would like to see or what you need. We had to do this to change that law saying there's no ‘sandwich boards’ allowed.”
She noted, “There has to be rules and regulations. … The last time we had ‘sandwich boards’ (prepandemic), they were all up and down the sidewalks, every which way, people were going around them, people were complaining, and that’s (why they were limited).”
Welch explained, “Right now, (the Planning Board) cannot say, ‘Oh, you can have a “sandwich board,” ’ because the regulations are telling our Planning Commission that is against the law. So, until we change the law, they can't approve any ‘sandwich boards.’ ”
Village of Lewiston businesses are fighting to keep “sandwich board” signs as part of their marketing.
Local Law #15-2023 – amend Section 13 Sign Regulations to read:
Change number 25 to:
“Sandwich Board Sign” – a hinged freestanding sign that is composed of two sign faces diverging at an angle of no more than 45 degrees from their adjoined edge. Previous text was “Sandwich board sign” – a hinged freestanding sign of any size, unattached to any building or ground surface and which opens in an “A” shape, whether professionally designed and manufactured or created or designed in any freehand style.
C. Prohibited Signs
Item 13 – No sandwich board signs of any size, shape or design shall be permitted within the public right-of-way of village streets, nor on private property.
The New York State Department of Transportation does not allow Sandwich Board signs within the public right of way of village streets. The requirements of item 13 may only be waived for signs located on private property upon review and approval of a special use permit by the Planning Board.
A conditional approval of a sandwich board sign and its specific location may be made if its use is supported by evidence presented to the Planning Board by the owner of the business for which said exception is requested showing that, because of topography, some other physical condition, or extenuating circumstances, enforcement of this section would create an unusual and undue hardship. Evidence of insurance coverage for the sign must be submitted with the application.
If approved, the use of one Sandwich Board sign would be allowed for a one-year period and it would not be counted towards the allowed signage.
The sign must be non-illuminated, not exceed 8 square feet in area and 4 feet in height and have nothing attached to it. It must be brought in by dusk and not put out until dawn and be sufficiently secure to prevent movement from the wind. Any weights or cords used with the sign must also be taken in with the sign. Placement will not obstruct free egress from a window, door, or a fire escape and will not interfere with vehicular or pedestrian access or visibility.
The use of a Sandwich Board sign is a privilege not a right. Failure to comply with the requirements detailed above will result in the revocation of the special use permit.”
(Paragraph breaks added for clarity.)