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City bans sign language

The Brooklyn Paper
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The city has suddenly started taking a hard-line against a crime that Brooklyn businesses have committed with impunity for decades — putting signs in front of their stores.

Shops in Park Slope and Cobble Hill have been slapped with $100–$300 tickets over the last three weeks for the crime of obstructing the sidewalk with their A-frame, or sandwich board, signs.

“Everyone has them — and they don’t block the sidewalk,” said John Ferrandino, co-owner of Ansonia Chemist on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street, who was cited on Nov. 8.

“It’s ludicrous. I’ve had the sign out for 23 years without consequence.”

In response to the crackdown, Ferrandino and shopkeepers on commercial strips like Seventh Avenue and Court Street have cloistered their A-frames indoors amid a growing confusion about what is permitted outside their stores.

The city says the laws, and its enforcement of them, are very clear.

“If we see something obstructing the sidewalk, we’re going to give them a ticket,” said Sanitation spokeswoman Kathy Dawkins. She also claimed that enforcement agents “always give an explanation” before handing a storeowner a ticket.

But that message seems inconsistent.

Legally, the signs cannot prop out beyond three feet from the store’s wall. But some shops were told four feet. Ferrandino says he was unfairly fined, because his sign extended only two feet.

To be on the safe side, many stores are now flattening the A-frame sandwich board into a two-dimensional sign against the wall.

Sanitation’s records for sidewalk obstruction tickets do not say if they were given for A-frames or other violations. The agency was also unable to say if there has ben a recent increase in the number of tickets given out.

Owners of several stores that are hidden from plain view are particularly nervous about the crackdown.

“The sign is a huge part of our advertising,” said Zoe Bowick, co-owner of the Park Slope Fitness Collective, a basement-level gym that opened this year on Seventh Avenue and was ticketed the same day as Ansonia Chemist. “We don’t spend a lot on advertising. Most of our business comes from referrals and passers-by.”

Businesses on Court Street have been retooling their signage, too, after a Sanitation dragnet about three weeks ago.

“It’s kind of ridiculous. It looks like they were just going up the street giving out tickets,” said Berlin Reed, who works at Cobblestone Food, near Wyckoff Street, which was one of several stores fined.

Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Cobble Hill) has received so many complaints about the rash of A-frame tickets that she wants the city to meet with merchants’ groups.

“There’s nothing wrong with enforcing it, but there are lots of small merchants on commercial strips who didn’t know about it,” she said.

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Reader Feedback

Ex Brooklynite from Thornton, Colorado says:
Another jab at our civil liberties, Everything that makes Brooklyn quaint and unique is now a crime. I wish I had a time machine to go back 60 years. What happened to our country? It's definitely not the same one I grew up in in the 60's & 70's. I'd gladly trade all the electronic crap, gizmos and in your face attitude for the simplicity of yesterday. Whatever happen to asking the owner to put the sign inside before issuing a ticket? Colorado is seeing the same greed and corruption as Brooklyn. Agencies want to control you by intimidation, anything you do they threaten with jail. They have taken everything they can get their hands on. (Republicans) It almost doesn't pay to go to work anymore. All your money goes to obscene rent and food prices, exorbinant Parking tickets, Child care and bogus health care deductibles. I believe my father when he says I had more money when I made $125.00 dollars a week Than making $1500 per week. Money is one thing, but losing our pride and loyalty to this nation is most regretful. We will never recover, Mark these words!
Nov. 27, 2007, 12:49 pm
sid from Boerum Hill says:
I am pretty sure that all these summonses got dismissed thanks to Councilmember David Yassky's office
May 7, 2009, 10:24 am

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