Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Mobtown Beat

Bad Signs

City Enforcement Of Sidewalk Sign Ban Has Small-Business Owners Crying Foul

Jefferson Jackson Steele
POST NO BILLS: Two weeks before Christmas, the city told Stephanie Fleishman, proprietor of 2910 on the Square, that the sidewalk sign outside her store violates the law.

By Stephen Janis | Posted 12/28/2005

While holiday shopping in Canton or Fells Point this past week, it would be hard not to notice the abundance of a particular aluminum landscape item. They’re called A-frames, the large freestanding sandwich boards that dot the sidewalks, touting everything from retail sales to entrée specials to the folks passing by.

But according to the supervisor of an obscure city agency within the Department of Public Works, the Minor Privilege Office, these signs, which to many seem like a natural part of Baltimore’s urban landscape, are illegal. They are considered a public nuisance, unsafe, and in the way of disabled shoppers.

“You have to consider the Americans with Disabilities Act,” says Martha Grande, supervisor of the three-person Minor Privilege Office. “These signs are dangerous obstacles to people with disabilities.”

DPW spokesman Kurt Kocher says the Minor Privilege Office’s purview is the private use of public spaces in the city, including sidewalks. Therefore, the signs fall under the office’s jurisdiction.

“We have to have some control over how people use city property,” Kocher says. “There’s a lot of sign creep. Eventually these things end up in the street.”

Grande says the city Board of Estimates added enforcing the ban on A-frames to her office’s duties in 1964. Since then the office has employed a single inspector who roams the streets, warning various businesses that they must remove any A-frame signs from outside their stores. If the owners fail to comply, the city can issue the business owner a ticket; fines for the infraction start at $50, Grande says.

Recently, merchants on O’Donnell Square in Canton say, the city did a sweep of their neighborhood and told businesses that they had to get rid of their A-frames. Stephanie Fleishman, owner of a small gift shop there called 2910 on the Square, says an inspector walked into her shop just a week after she put up her sign and told her to remove it.

“Cracking down on small business two weeks before Christmas is ridiculous,” Fleishman says. “The city must have something better to do.”

She says she and other Canton businesses plan to fight for a repeal of the law. She points out that the big-box electronics store Best Buy has an A-frame sign outside its new downtown store on East Pratt Street, and so far, as of press time, no one has forced it to take it down.

“What the city doesn’t understand is that we’re a small business in a rowhouse, and people don’t always know we’re here,” Fleishman says. “The sign is very important. If Best Buy can have a sign outside its store, I think small business should be able to as well.”

Related stories

Mobtown Beat archives

More Stories

The Last Dirty Picture Show (1/27/2010)
The heyday of the Apex Theatre has come and gone. Can it rise again?

Justice of the Peace (1/27/2010)

"Struggling Homeowners" Default and Go to Disney World (12/10/2009)
The Rentership Society: Default on your mortgage, go to Disney (in yer Bimmer)

More from Stephen Janis

Lead-ing the Charge (3/1/2006)
Some Say City Should Renew Effort to Sue Lead-Paint Manufacturers in Wake of Recent Court Victory

Councilmania (2/15/2006)
Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein (2/8/2006)

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter