By Joshua Maloni
The Village of Lewiston is one step closer to adopting a new “sandwich boards” sign law following a productive, one-hour meeting with business owners at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.
Though the agenda included a motion to approve new sign standards, no vote was taken. Rather, trustees thanked the dozen-plus speakers for their suggestions, and asked for more time to “digest” each statement.
Mayor Anne Welch said, “As everyone knows, our current law says that sandwich boards are not permitted. This is a law. We’re asking for your input on what we should do with the ‘sandwich boards.’ They weren't permitted before COVID. We went up and down Center Street to the businesses and said, ‘Put “sandwich board” signs out. Put banners out. Anything you need to get yourself through.’ That’s why we allowed the ‘sandwich boards.’ Now that COVID is over, we still have our law on our books that says no ‘sandwich boards.’ ”
She added, “We're not saying that you can't have them. Our current law says you can't. That’s why we are here.”
Town of Lewiston Clerk Donna Garfinkel, who is co-owner of Sgt. Peppers Hot Sauces, Etc., said, “In 2020, the board relaxed the ‘no “sandwich board” law’ for a way ‘to help promote local retailers and restaurants.’ And we're all here tonight to ask you that you continue that gesture.”
Viva Nostalgia owner Roger Passero said a “sandwich board” sign “helps to slow people down,” particularly those individuals who aren’t looking to stop into a store and shop.
He added, “I know what you folks are really afraid of – you're afraid that there's going to be 100 signs. I can understand that. We don't have that many, but I think it's the people that do have them are ones that really feel that they really need it. …
“I just want you guys to realize that we're not just doing this because we want to litter the town with signs, or anything like that. We're doing it because we're trying to make the best we can for Lewiston, because Lewiston is a great place and it's got some great stores – some great store owners here. … We've lost a few, and we're losing a couple more. And if we keep losing them, it's not going to be the same. …
“If we lose our shops and we don't have our shops, then the rest of these people will suffer, too. Because without the shops to bring the people here, we don't stand a chance.”
Brewed and Bottled Craft Beer Shop co-owner Chris Budde said, “COVID has been mentioned as a reason for previously allowing these signs. COVID might be over, but the shift in consumer behavior and spending is having a massive effect on each and every business in the village. There's no end in sight, and things are drastically different than they were years ago. Nothing is predictable, period.
“If you want this great community to continue to exist and grow together, there needs to be healthy, working relationships between all government and businesses alike. We understand and we support the collaboration. But we have to get rid of the dictating with little to no dialogue. Work with us, not against us, and understand where we find ourselves today.”
The Vintage Barber co-owner Lynn Stephens said, “We opened in March (off Center Street), and I can only say we put that sign out there three weeks ago and our business has picked up like you can’t believe.”
She added, “If you have to take that sign down, we can’t make it back there.”
Lewiston Digital and Trait-Carré owner Matt Villnave, who serves as the chairman of the Upward Niagara Chamber of Commerce board, said, “We have nearly 300 members. We have yet to find one that supports the (proposed new law) language as written.”
He said municipal statements suggesting a potential flood of “sandwich board” signs are inaccurate.
“There's about 15 in the village that I've counted over a several-weeks span,” Villnave said. “They come, they go; sometimes it's only on Tuesdays – you know, ‘Taco Tuesday’; pump your own gas or ‘We’ll Pump Your Gas Tuesday.’ They come and go. There aren’t a hundred. There won't be. There are 168 businesses in the village. About 7% have some sort of signboard at any given time. Not all the time.”
Villnave added, “I think businesses felt like they were demonized (for placing – or misplacing – ‘sandwich board’ signs). … I feel like businesses have been responsible. We're out there; we sweep the sidewalks. We do the things that, I think, are important to our village. We're partners. And I think the common theme of what businesses don't like about this is having to come before the Planning Board and make a business case to have a sign.”
Lewiston Digital and Trait-Carré owner Matt Villnave said only a small percentage of business owners use “sandwich board” signs.
How the Law Could Be Shaped
Villnave said, “I haven't found a single business owner that's not agreeable to having some kind of regulation. … We want to be active participants in what's great about having a vibrant village.”
He and others expressed a desire to apply for a sign, write a check, and be amenable to certain regulations, placements and design standards – in lieu of pleading the merits of their sign to the Planning Commission, as the law proposal recommended.
Garfinkel said, “I'm not quite sure why it needs to go to the Planning Board. It should just go to your building inspector. If your law proposes the sign that it’s supposed to be, you present that to your building inspector and he says, ‘Yes, it's all within what it is.’ The Planning Board, when they look at it, they're not really there to look at it and say, ‘Well, that's the wrong color. That's the wrong this. That's the wrong that.’ …
“I personally believe that any and all local businesses should be permitted to apply and receive a permit for a ‘sandwich board.’ Each business has its own thoughts, ideas and uniqueness on what makes them successful, and what will attract the customer.”
Welch said, “We already have temporary signs that the zoning officer takes care of.”
Fittante Architecture owner Jim Fittante – a member of the Historic Preservation Commission – said the “sandwich board” sign approval process “should be an application with a checklist of what they need to meet. And hopefully they wouldn't have to come to Planning Board meetings, because sometimes it's 30 days – turn into 60 very easily. And if they meet all the requirements, it's like building a house that doesn't need any zoning. That doesn't have to come in here.”
Budde said, “A side note with the law: Would you please consider eliminating dusk as the time that the signs must come in? If they’re on properties, they’re most likely illuminated by patio lights, etc. This is shortsighted and does not take into consideration businesses that are open later, or earlier than dusk during the wintertime.”
The Stone House proprietor and Lewiston Event Center co-owner Emery Simon said, “What I would suggest is the village come up with a uniform sign that anybody can put whatever they want on it, as long as it's basically uniform; so, no matter where we go, it's a 2-foot-by-4-foot. It's uniform. It looks the same. It’s the same amount of responsibility to take care of it.
“Certain places, my establishment, it doesn't make sense for us to take it down at dark. We're open until midnight.”
With Center Street a New York State Department of Transportation-governed roadway, Simon suggested, “When you make this permanent application … you work with the DOT so that everybody doesn't go out and buy signs and then, all of a sudden, the DOT comes in and says, ‘OK, I know everybody in this room spent $200 on a sign. They've all got to go.’ ”
He added, “I would hate to see everybody spend 200 bucks on a sign and the DOT say, ‘No, we don't want a 2-foot-by-4-foot. We want a 3-foot-by-3 foot,’ or whatever the case may be. If it goes through the DOT, we want them to do it so that it's uniform and now we know that, once we put it out there – once we've bought that sign – it's not going to say, ‘Take the sign down.’ ”
He also suggested business owners add the village as additionally covered on their insurance policies, so as to protect taxpayers against lawsuits stemming from sign-related mishaps.
Trustee Tina Coppins said, “My idea was, if each business got one sign … and it's brought in nightly at the end when they close, I’m good with that. And it's in the right place, and people could see it, and no tripping and all that. I feel the enforcement would come in the morning. Maybe our zoning officer, if he drove by, down Center Street or like around the plaza, it would take him maybe 15 minutes. …
“If anybody has their signs out, he takes them. Then what happens? You have to come to us, and you have to pay a fine to get it back. So now what happens is we take that money and we put it back into beautification for Center Street, for extra cleanup, extra plants.”
Welch said, “It just makes you responsible. If you screw up, then you lose your sign.”
Deputy Mayor Vic Eydt told the crowd, “I appreciate what you've said today. You’ve got a lot of good points, which I think are excellent points.”
He added, “We're not against them at all. We're trying to get input. …
“It's going to go forward, and we're not going to say ‘No.’ We're just trying to make it as best as we can. We don't want 100 of them out there. We need some control.”
Trustee Dan Gibson said, “We're not saying you’ve got to come and show hardship in getting a sign. It’s the placement of it. If you can't place it where we're asking you to place it, (then) come to the board to show hardship – where you have to put the sign.”
Trustee Nick Conde said, “This is a lot of good input from everybody and the businesses. I appreciate it, because I want to change a few things (in the new law).”
Welch said, “You have to realize this board here is doing everything we can to make Lewiston so great. We're not against you. We're trying to help you. But it's something that we have to do. I mean, we can't just ignore the law that we have on the books. Because if that's what we're going to do, then you'll all be in violation. That's not what we want. We want to figure something out so everybody can live with it. That you can have your ‘sandwich board.’
“We’ve had a lot of good input tonight. I think we can construct a really good law that everybody can agree with.”
No timeline was set for revisiting the sign law vote.
Welch said businesses will be provided with a new proposal draft, when available.
The owners of Queen B’s Cottage and Sgt. Peppers Hot Sauces, Etc., use “sandwich board” signs to attract people into their stores. The Village of Lewiston Board pledged to work with business owners on crafting new laws permitting the marketing tool.
In Other News
Also at Tuesday’s board meeting:
•Trustees approved a motion to contract Technical Solutions to install four additional exterior surveillance cameras at the Red Brick Municipal Building, 145 N. Fourth St. The impetus for this is added security around the inclusive playground following recent acts of vandalism.
•Cafarella Concrete was hired to build a concrete sidewalk at the “Circle of Honor” veterans memorial at Academy Park. The cost is $3,500.
Funding for these two projects will come from proceeds received in the sale of the “Big Yellow House” at 475 Ridge St.
•The Stone House 5K was approved and will be held Sunday, Sept. 17, with a race start time of 10 a.m.