Uncluttered corners can make stores invisible

By Tracy Felix | Sep 09, 2016
Tracy Felix

You may remember an article in the Edmonds Beacon last summer (“Board signs not standing well with residents, businesses,” Aug. 13, 2015) reporting citizen complaints about overuse of sign boards in the downtown Edmonds business district.

After looking at the situation, the city of Edmonds created a new sign code. Upon unanimous approval of our City Council last month, the city issued letters to 570 downtown businesses to cease and desist use of all signboards until they pay additional permit fees for approval to only use sign boards that meet the new requirements.

In a nutshell, under the new regulation, signboards and sandwich boards must be placed within 10 feet of the front door of the business. It is true, many of the signs were not of high aesthetic value, but they did serve a purpose.

Some businesses are reporting a drop in business anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent. For retailers, this is of great concern. It is making an immediate impact on stores not located directly on Fifth Avenue or Main Street. In particular, directional signs are incredibly important to side-street businesses. They depend on sign placement on corners to guide foot traffic to their tucked-in locations.

Lack of corner signage is why Bountiful Home, Spangler Book Exchange and Edmonds Hardware have become virtually invisible. Many people still don’t know we have a wonderful hardware store here in town, so this business in particular serves as an example of how challenging it is to gain exposure for drive-by and walk-in customers.

In the case of the hardware store, under the new code you will have already parked in the lot and walked up to the door before you would see their legal sign. I, for one, am missing Zinc’s happy orange sign and the Church Key Pub’s daily jokes.

As a business owner on Main, this does not affect my store as much as others. Some may say businesses on Fifth and Main streets pay higher rent so deserve the better visibility. This presumption is not always accurate.

Side street businesses pay fair rent rates, and Edmonds rental rates are not inexpensive. When any of the businesses in town struggle, it affects the overall vitality of the downtown business core. And that does concern me.

ARTspot opened four years ago when there were still some vacancies around town. For the most part, these openings have filled in quite nicely with a diverse assortment of retail, by-appointment businesses and restaurants.

Downtown has been attracting more shoppers from surrounding areas. Visitors and residents often comment to me about the revitalized downtown. Mayor Earling announced earlier this year that we are officially no longer “Deadmonds.”

I would suggest this is in a large part due to the business district growing out from the center of Fifth and Main onto Third, Fourth, Sixth, Dayton, Maple and Walnut streets. Unless we want to go back to the quiet atmosphere of five to 10 years ago, it is critical to maintain the current level of commerce.

If we want to attract additional growth, we need to cultivate an atmosphere that is supportive, workable and friendly to prospective business. That means things like directional signage on the corners.

It is important to look at this issue from the viewpoint of what we value in our town. The downtown area is often praised for being charming and inviting. This is in large part due to the individual nature of our independent businesses.

I appeal to both city government and citizens to be concerned and even protective of our local, family owned businesses. Small brick and mortar stores generally run on a thin line of profitability. We do, however, contribute much to the community.

We are on the front lines donating to many schools and other groups asking for donations. Local businesses are great employers. When you shop local, a much higher percentage of the money stays in the community where the store is located.

National chain stores, big-box stores, franchise and online retailers contribute virtually nothing to local causes, our local economy or to our local tax base.

Many people agreed the signboards were unsightly, but to me they are better than “For lease” or “Going out of business” signs. Sure, the city needs to update these regulations and keep an eye open for public safety.

Businesses could have done a better job of making them look better. But did the City Council allow a few strongly committed anti-sign advocates put too big a dent in our local economy? The regulations are written, and for the most part being observed, but we have some work to do to fix this.

I encourage our local government to take another look at the impact lack of visibility and increased permit fees are having both now and in the long run?

Does the city of Edmonds absolutely need to collect another permit fee, on top of the permits and licenses businesses have already pay for? At what point does the weight of this new regulation become more important than supporting our local business owners in the day-to-day challenge to keep their doors open?

Moving forward, I am optimistic due to one fact.

The city did leave a window of opportunity open for discussion. This new code will be reviewed within the year. Perhaps the city of Edmonds and the Business Improvement District can draw up a program for well-designed wayfarer signage.

In other towns, especially places that showcase the arts, you see banners and colorful signage celebrating events, galleries shopping and eateries. The city currently has a directional board for its services near the fountain at Fifth and Main.

Surely, the city can see the need for the business district to have the same kind of option.

In the meantime, many downtown merchants are experiencing a lull in business. I call on you, citizens of Edmonds, to visit local shops, and recommend your favorites to others.

Word of mouth is any businesses’ best advertising. While we wait for a better solution, this can do much to replace lost revenues due to the inability of businesses to advertise with sidewalk signage.

Tracy Felix is the owner of ARTspot in Edmonds.

 

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