Raleigh, N.C. — Zoning inspectors have threatened to fine the owner of a north Raleigh magic shop $500 a day unless he makes a truck that advertises his business disappear.
The Magic Corner is in the small Holly Tree Harrispark shopping center along a crowded stretch of Capital Boulevard, and owner John Ferrante said it's difficult for people to know his store is even there because it's not listed on the center's sign and the store is on the side of the center and can't be seen from the busy thoroughfare.
To raise the Magic Corner's visibility, Ferrante has parked a box truck with the store's name on the side in front of the shopping center so it can be seen by passing vehicles.
Raleigh inspectors claim the truck is an illegal sign because it remains in the parking lot solely to promote Ferrante's store. They say it would be different if it were regularly used in his business.
He argues, however, that the truck is legally registered and that he does drive it occasionally.
Inspectors said they have seen a proliferation of box trucks in Raleigh masquerading as signs and are trying to cut down on clutter, but Ferrante countered that it's not the city's place to regulate taste.
"Can I tell you (that) you can't paint your vehicle a horrible shade of orange because it's unattractive? Please don't park it anywhere near the road. It's a horrible shade of orange. It's awful. It's tacky. You're not allowed to do that in the city of Raleigh," he said. "There has to be a limit. I do have the right of free speech."
The crackdown on signs on four wheels is the latest flap over Raleigh's sign ordinance. City officials appointed a special task force last year to tackle sign issues, and some more flexible rules for businesses were adopted. They didn't address truck-type signs, however.
Ferrante said he wants inspectors to provide a better explanation of what rule he's violating. Zoning officials said they plan to start levying fines if he doesn't move the truck.
"Absolutely it would put me out of business. I can't afford anything like that," he said. "I'm struggling to get along. Small businesses are already in trouble."