ARLINGTON — After years of dormancy, Arlington city leaders have suddenly started enforcing an old ordinance that prohibits people from holding signs on sidewalks.
The move, launched last week, aims to ease traffic and remove street-side distractions, but it has hit a nerve with small business owners. The law has been dormant since 1995. Violators face a $184 fine.
“As a veteran, we fought and died just to have this particular right,” declared Randy Brown as he stood at a busy intersection. He held a battered, red arrow that points to the Veteran’s Thrift Store down the block. An American flag poked out from the top of the sign.
“It’s not hurting anyone. It’s not doing anyone any harm,” Brown said, “but it’s allowing me to do what I need to do to take care of myself and my family.”
Brown typically hires homeless veterans to stand on the sidewalk and hold the sign. Otherwise, he says, people would drive by without noticing his shop.
But last week, code inspectors stopped by to tell him to remove the sign or face a fine. The move only further emboldened Brown to keep it. He’s now launched a petition and is urging City Hall to reconsider the law.
“They have handcuffed this organization,” he said. “They have put us in a position where our doors may close.”
The ban on handheld or temporary signs has been on the books for years, but the law was largely never enforced. Seeing that more businesses were adopting the marketing tool, Arlington code inspectors began going door-to-door last week. Crews handed out at least 20 warnings. Citations could soon follow.
“We began to see more and more people just ignore the ordinance,” said Rebecca Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the City of Arlington. “It’s the city’s preference businesses use permanent signs. It’s just a safer way to advertise your business.”
But companies worry it’ll force them to lay off people most in need of a job.
Lee Galloway, 23, earns the minimum wage standing for hours on a sidewalk holding a “Cash 4 Gold” sign. He says that while the job is difficult, it helps his family afford their rent.
“I’m on my feet all day,” he said, quickly adding, “I was just happy to get the job.”
Councilman Robert Rivera said he generally supports the law, but is open to revisiting it.
“If there are a lot of people that are really that concerned, then those are things we should be able to talk about as a community,” he said.
Calvin Thorns, 25, hopes city leaders reconsider. He worries his days may be limited standing outside a tax service.
“I got a brand new baby, so it’s hard for me right now,” Thorns said. He admits he’s a convicted felon and has had a hard time finding work.
“This job has given me opportunity.”
After a code inspector visited him last week, Thorns was forced to ditch the sign he held advertising the business. Yet he refuses to give up. He simply dances in a Statue of Liberty costume to the honks of passing cars. He hopes drivers still get the message.
“I feel weird without my sign,” he admits. “It’s like Superman without his cape!”