Tempe barber, other businesses feel clipped by sign rules
By Shelley Gillespie Special for The Republic | azcentral.com, Fri Apr 5, 2013 9:32 AM
Balloons, banners, pennants and streamers often are a boon for business, except when Tempe judges them to be an eyesore and a code violation.
Caught in his attempt to attract business and maintain his family barbershop’s adherence to Tempe’s sign codes, Dan Armijo of Nash’s Valley Fair Barber Shop, whose business has been in Tempe for a half century, is frustrated.
Nash’s, 115 E. Southern Ave., in a strip center at the southeastern corner of Southern and Mill avenues, is not easy to see from the street.
Armijo complains that the city code is too restrictive regarding temporary signs that he has tried to use.
Many neighboring store owners have the same difficulty, they say.
“For 50 years, we have held on in business here, but the city won’t let us advertise,” Armijo said. “They called it an eyesore when I put up a sign. They say you can’t fight City Hall, but aren’t we on the same side?”
Tempe code inspector Marvin White apprised Armijo of allowable signage, which includes a “significant event” permit that costs $118 for six months, which is renewable and allows 21 days of signage during that period. “Way-finding” and A-frame signs are a one-time $26 fee for regular usage.
With a “significant event” permit, banners, pennants, balloons and other special signage may be placed near a business touting significant events like holidays or special sales. Those who file for the permits must designate which 21 days during the six months they will use the signs.
To Tempe’s south, Chandler also has a significant-event, six-month permit that limits signage to 21 days within the period, said Chandler site-development inspector Ed Schuster. However, Chandler charges only $10 for the six-month permit, $108 less than Tempe.
Sign-wrapped vehicles that can be parked near a shopping center’s edge, people waving signs by the roadside and a proliferation of political-campaign signs all are allowed under Tempe code.
Magnetic vehicle signs are not.
Armijo said he considered moving out of Tempe several months ago when his lease was up. He even had buyers for his equipment, he says. But, he put up a feather banner and got noticeably more business. The first week, he received a notice from the city telling him to take down his banner, pay for a permit, or risk a civil citation and possible criminal charges.
“You can’t regulate every day of the week, but you can guess what the city would look like … quite the eyesore (with unregulated signage),” said Jeff Tamulevich, Tempe code-compliance administrator.
Tamulevich said that he had met in 2009 with Nash Armijo, who he claimed was “thrilled” to have the option of a significant-event permit.
Armijo has not purchased significant-event permits, however. The reality of the $118 cost, twice a year, for 42 days of extra signage equals a lot of haircuts.
At a $26 one-time fee, a way-finding sign would seem to be a good investment for businesses. The restrictions of signage placement, however, make them less attractive for a mall location like Valley Fair’s, Armijo says. With a covered walkway for pedestrians, the signage would fall right in the middle of the walkway, blocking easy access if the 3-foot distance requirement from the doorway is met. Signs would also be hard to see tucked under the walkway, so they wouldn’t help potential customers find a store.
Bankim Patel, owner of Valley Fair Liquors, 121 E. Southern Ave., says he has had a sign confiscated.
“People don’t realize we’re here,” Patel said. “O’Reilly’s (Auto Parts) blocks my view.”
Patel would like to know why, in a recession, the city can’t bend to help businesses, which would help the city with more sales-tax revenue.
“We’re all struggling,” Armijo said. “Are they trying to get rid of smaller businesses?”
Several stores, like Nash’s and Nutrishop, 101 E. Southern, a health- and diet-food establishment, have put A-frame signs in the mall’s medians, only to be warned to remove them.
“We hear grumblings about signage,” said Tempe Chamber of Commerce President Mary Ann Miller. “Historically, it’s one of the biggest issues.”
Miller said it is time for the city to review sign regulations.
City Council members have been notified of the stores’ concerns.
Councilman Joel Navarro, acting as mediator between the city and store owners, said that Tempe’s Code Enforcement staff would set up a meeting with store owners to “talk about the ordinances and try to mitigate something and also try to improve on the ordinances if needed … and hopefully get a happy ending out of this process.”
“Signs are a plus-one for the person who has the sign, but a minus-two for everyone who doesn’t,” Councilman Kolby Granville said. “We will allow as much as we can within the codes … and stretch codes to try to help them stay open.”
Granville said he would be willing to consider changes but he would like to limit signage — even political signs — to keep Tempe attractive.
“The way to sell a city is not to sell a cheaper product, but to sell a better product. The product I sell is Tempe,” Granville said.
Armijo signed his new lease and wants to work with the city to change signage codes. He said he is waiting for the city to set up the meeting with his fellow tenants to discuss signage.
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