Business-friendly whiners made the front page of the Arizona Daily Star today– with old news. The story– Tough Times Make City’s Sign Code a Target– features three business owners who are perpetual complainers about Tucson’s sign code. (Although two of them were allowed to use the offending signs after appeal, they’re still whining about them.)
The third complainer is Thoroughbred Nisson– who bought the old Kinney Shoe Store building and its GIANT, old, ugly sign across the street. The sign code says that old, non-compliant signs are grandfathered in and can be used until the business changes hands. If the business type remains the same (ie, a restaurant opens where an old restaurant was), the non-compliant sign can be used– regardless how old, ugly, and out-of-scale it may be. If the business type changes, the signage is subject to review.
Thoroughbred Nisson tried to play the historic card with the old Kinney Shoe Store sign– erected on east Broadway Blvd. in 1960 (during the same era when Life Magazine said Speedway Blvd. was the ugliest street in America). It was 3x as tall and almost 4x as big as new signs, and there was nothing esthetically pleasing about it. I agree with the decision to tear that sign down and with the neighborhood opposition to that sign. Quoting the Star: “As Ron Spark of El Encanto Estates argued in a letter to the city, it would be a charade to classify ‘older, oversized, grotesquely ugly signage’ as historical.” What the Star article doesn’t report is that Spark was only one of many neighbors who were tired of looking at that sign.
Interestingly enough, businessman and would-be Republican mayoral candidate Shaun McClusky, who was trying to make a case for big signs, actually made a case for the effectiveness of small signs.
The Internet is great, McClusky said, “but I’m in the real estate business. We can advertise a property on 18 websites on a daily basis, but I get far more calls from dropping signs in front yards.”.
Summarily dissing Internet advertising because yard signs are effective real estate tools is silly. Receiving more calls from small real estate signs has more to do with the property the sign is in front of than the sign. If he’s not getting hits from the websites, try a different website! Also, does he know how many people looked at the house on the web before they drove by?
I think GIANT sign cheerleaders would have a more convincing case if they actually had data to show that GIANT signs bring in more business than sign-code-compliant signs. Yes, they can be seen, but does that translate to sales?
Is a sign code actually bad for business? I don’t think so.
Take Palm Springs as a good example of a thriving metropolis with strict signs and LOTS of business. On a recent trip to Palm Springs, I was impressed with the short, tasteful signs and almost complete lack of billboards. We stayed in one of the five or so hotels near their convention center and enjoyed breakfast in a quaint shopping/restaurant area nearby. We thought, “This is what downtown Tucson should look like!”
In this electronic age, giant signs and billboards are dinosaurs. A tasteful, READABLE sign that includes the business name + street number is only one component of a marketing plan. Businesses also should have a well-designed, functional, and up-to-date website, a facebook account, a Twitter account, a stylish business card, and membership in one or more networking groups. And, if you want eye-catching signage, get a car wrap.
March 22 update: The Tucson City Council will hear a sign code variance appeal at tonight’s meeting (March 22, 2011). The Jewish Community Center– a beautifully design building set into the Catalina Mountains– wants to cover the south face of their building with a billboard. The center already has one non-compliant, over-sized sign. Now they want a billboard, which will not only destroy the architectural elegance of their building but also destroy our view of the Catalina Mountains. If they are allowed to erect this billboard, every time you sit on a bench at Brandi Fenton Park to watch the sunset over the Catalinas, you will see a billboard.