City bans sign language

City bans sign language
Ansonia Chemist owner John Ferrandino shows off the ticket he received using an A-frame sign.
The Brooklyn Paper / Nicole Braun

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.

Signs like these are illegal — as many mom-and-pop stores are finding out.
The Brooklyn Paper / Nicole Braun

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.

The Brooklyn Paper / Nicole Braun

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