In the seaside community of Steveston, sandwich boards are crucial for attracting visitors — particularly tourists — to local businesses.
“You really do need a lot of signage to get people to notice you,” said Laura Stapleton, owner of the Fab Pad vintage furniture and decor shop. “For the side street businesses especially, it’s absolutely critical.”
But Stapleton and other merchants say they’ve recently heard warnings from the City of Richmond that those important signs could be subject to fines.
Under the city’s bylaws, sandwich boards are only supposed to be up for 30 days after a business first opens.
Acting on two complaints, bylaw officers recently warned some businesses they could be forced to pay up to $1,000 if they don’t take the boards down. Owners are baffled.
“It’s not really hurting anybody,” Steveston Barbers owner Iain Mackelworth said. “I’ve been here for 30 years. I’ve seen them all the time being used.”
Mackelworth said the fact the warnings came after only two complaints is troubling.
“We live in a society where we listen to one percenters, two percenters that whine and whinge, and they seem to get the grease for that oily wheel,” he said.
“Talk to people on the street, see what they think. Rather than pick up the phone and get a complaint from Mrs. Smith, ‘that’ll do, we’ll come down and shut it all down.’ That’s not the way you do business.”
City spokesperson Clay Adams couldn’t speak to what the specific complaints were, but he did say the grievances normally involve pedestrian access to the sidewalk.
No businesses have been ticketed yet, but Adams says the law is the law.
“We don’t want to be issuing tickets to any business or doing anything that’s going to negatively impact the business,” he said.
“However, the bylaw is quite clear on what the requirements are, and when we get a complaint we have to act and enforce that bylaw.”
Stapleton, who’s also a board member of the Steveston Merchants Association, says the group will be approaching the city with a proposal to install wayfinding signs.
“These would be signs on every corner, they would fit with the village and point to those businesses down the side streets that really need the signage,” she says.
Similar signs have proven effective in other communities in the Lower Mainland, including Langley City and parts of Vancouver.
Adams says Richmond is open to working with businesses on a way forward.