By Jody Manor, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
The sudden enforcement of A-frame sign regulations along King Street in Old Town is disturbing. It’s a small issue, but one that gets to the heart of whether we re- ally are a business friendly community.
We need to be one if we’re going to address our budget problems, fund our school capacity crisis and fix our sewers — to name but a few pressing issues.
As I walk along King Street speaking to retailers about the proposed business improvement district, I’m hearing a lot of negative news about sales. City tax revenue records from the past few years show flat to declining sales. Do we want to turn this around?
What is the real issue here? Are there safety problems with the signs? If indeed the signs pose a safety issue,
wouldn’t a better course of action be to regulate where they are located? A much greater safety problem is the uneven bricks on Old Town sidewalks. About once a year, customers came into Bittersweet bleeding from having tripped over them.
These regulations have gone unenforced for many years, and I cannot understand the sense of urgency around changing that given the output of the A-frame sign task force, which determined that a new program would be put in place for businesses on side streets but has yet to be implemented.
To be fair, the new pro- gram does not include businesses on King Street, but the optics of enforcement now — prior to the holidays and before bringing the new program online — makes the city look insensitive to small business and those considering opening businesses here. Given the number of closings and empty retail spaces, is this the best we can do?
This situation reminds me very much of 2008, when the city, in response to problems with outdoor seating over the winter, determined that all outdoor seating should be banned between Thanksgiving and April.
This deprived the city of needed revenue, not to mention the vibrancy that outdoor seating brings. Eventually a way was found to address the problems without eliminating the seating altogether during four months of the year — when the weather is often favor- able to dining outdoors — and tax revenue.
The entire nature of retail is changing, and Main Street businesses need all the help they can get. Many retailers post clever messages on their A-frame signs, which visitors often photograph before entering the establishment.
Visitors riding the King Street trolley can glimpse a passing sign and return later to shop or dine. Small business is about express-ing one’s creativity and vision. So why eliminate something that makes our community unique? The recent purge of buskers completes the impression that our city is to be made bland and boring.
Alexandria cannot cut its way to success. Young, innovative entrepreneurs must be attracted here to ensure our business districts continue to be vibrant, strong and encourage locals and visitors to spend. The renewed enforcement of A-frame sign regulations has unintended consequences and must go back to the drawing board. Doing so would go some distance to- ward making our small business community feel supported, rather than thwarted by city regulations.