Local Politics

Costumed characters protest Raleigh sign ordinance

Posted November 22, 2011

— A snowman, an angel, a queen and a man on stilts with an afro pleaded with Raleigh City Council members Tuesday morning to ease the city's regulations on advertising signs.

The characters work for Hughie & Louie's, a costume shop at 6017 Glenwood Ave., which city zoning inspectors have threatened with hundreds of dollars in fines for using illegal signs.

Raleigh's sign ordinance prohibits signs – including costumed characters – on a sidewalk or in the city's right-of-way along streets, both for appearance and because they distract drivers. Businesses are allowed to have signs for special events only for their grand opening and a going-out-of-business sale.

Costume shop owner Louie Bowen and several other business owners told council members that the ordinance is too restrictive for small businesses in a sluggish economy.

"We're not holding a sign. We're just out in costume waving at people, just like you would walk down the street and wave at someone," said Bowen, who wore a crown and red cape to the Law & Public Safety Committee meeting. "You need to give us a way to get out to the public because you and I know the best way to communicate is face to face with someone."

She said she tried to use another Raleigh ordinance to find a way around the sign rules. She went to City Hall on Monday and obtained a free license to panhandle and made up a sign "begging" people to visit her store.

Raleigh sign ordinance protest Shop owner uses panhandling permit to evade Raleigh's sign rules

"If these (panhandlers) can hold signs and they don't pay taxes and they don't hire people, we should be able to do that too," she said. "We pay taxes. We pay rent. We pay employees. We pay to be where we are and to do what we do. I need to be able to do what I need to do to stay in business."

City officials said Bowen is breaking the panhandling ordinance because people aren't supposed to solicit drivers, but they said Raleigh doesn't have enough zoning inspectors to enforce either that law or the sign regulations, which leads to frequent violations.

The council plans to create a seven-member task force to look at whether people in costumes should be considered signs and whether businesses should be allowed more exemptions for special signs. The task force is expected to make its recommendations to the council within 90 days.

"This needs to looked at basically from a business standpoint of what works and what doesn't work and what we can allow," said Councilman John Odom, who noted that he first ran for City Council two decades ago because of his own frustrations with the sign ordinance.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said the sign regulations are in place to reduce the clutter along city streets, but that needs to be balanced against the needs of local businesses.

"When you create laws and regulations, they have a greater impact than just on one business," Baldwin said. "If we open this up, we create an even bigger issue."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • dohc2lplpower Nov 23, 2011

    The guy on stilts is who helped me determine that I was at the right shopping center to rent the same red cape Ms. Bowen wore in the video. It's no different advertising than the guy twirling a sign for newly constructed homes, the Chic-Fil-A cow waiving at your or people advertising car washes. They are all "Distractions". This is a small business and as it's already been stated we need to support them to help keep jobs. People in costume can always go home at the end of the day or leave for a bit which is a lot better than a billboard. Leave them only Raleigh!

  • Scubagirl Nov 23, 2011

    If this law/rule/whatever cannot be applied to EACH AND EVERY business then certain ones should not be picked out. That makes it unfair. I would rather see all billboards along the highways gone than inside cities.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Nov 23, 2011

    "allow all reasonable signs in all of NC" -- Tax Man

    NO! I vehemently disagree. It will trash our towns, roads, and neighborhoods.

    People need businesses, so they will find them. Businesses have been working fine since the onset of man and now we have google, restaurant location services and tons of other ways to find businesses like never before. Good businesses will do well without signs everywhere you look.

  • beachboater Nov 23, 2011

    Let's see. State priv. tax. County priv. tax. City priv. tax. Sales and use tax. Income tax. Property tax. Franchise tax. Annual business tax. FICA tax. Medicare tax. Unemployment tax (federal and state). And don't forget the administrative cost of complying all the tax rules and regs.

    Pay all of these, and we'll pass all the rules we can to prevent you from making a living.

    Hmmmmmmm. Yep. Sounds about right for "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."

  • warbirdlover Nov 23, 2011

    There us such a easy way to get around this ordinance. Just use Aerial Adverting. You know the airplanes towing the banners. How about a radio controlled blimp?

  • Tax Man Nov 22, 2011

    To have jobs you have to have sales, to have sales your have to have customers. If the customers do not know where you are they will not come. Time for free commercial speech - allow all reasonable signs in all of NC - allow competition and let us know where the stores are!

  • MudLife Nov 22, 2011

    @vraptor i seen his house in a home book forsale.

  • vraptor Nov 22, 2011

    Ha. Try living in cary. The sign police are every where and the HOA's use their positions to punish neighbors who they do not like.

    So what happened to the house in cary with the big sign "????ed by cary"??? The owner passed. Has it been cleaned up? What about the crazy guy on HH in cary near bond park that says he is not part of cary and therefore he does not have to obey the ordinances.

  • Scubagirl Nov 22, 2011

    So....if the city doesn't have the personnel to ticket ALL those on sidewalks w/ signs then perhaps, just perhaps, they should take that SEVEN member task force (who I'm sure will be getting taxpayer dollars for their study) to go and do that job. There are so many bigger things that the city needs to worry about, why in the world are they choosing this??? boggles the mind really. Either stop them ALL or stop none.

  • methinkthis Nov 22, 2011

    No shiny diners, no pink Taco Bells, no signs, so when will the billboards go and the trucks with signs on the sides pretending to not be a sign? For distractions- how about animated billboards? They should be banned. You are always trying to catch the next video.