The sign is about a foot high and five feet long. It reads: “Bodylogic Therapeutic Massage 250.837.3666.” It features a tasteful floral logo. To a passerby like me, it looks a lot like the other signs of the same size that line the outside of the newly-renovated Arlington Building on First Street East.
It’s certainly not a blazing-fluorescent, flashing-neon monstrosity hawking discount cigs and cold beer.
But to bureaucrats at city hall, and the city’s development review committee, it was a violation of unspoken city rules and had to be removed under threat of penalty.
Bodylogic Therapeutic Massage owner Karen Schneider says she’s out about $1,000 for the sign. She estimates she’s spent over 30 hours doing paperwork, corresponding and responding to grief from Revelstoke city hall. Despite her eight-month-long struggle, her application to keep the sign received a final no from city council on May 22.
So, what was the issue with the sign? There was a telephone number on it, which is a no-no. An unclear no-no, as Schneider explains to me.
She shows me the city’s sign guideline booklet. Two of the images in the booklet show example signs with telephone numbers on them. The guidelines don’t say telephone numbers are forbidden – which Schneider pointed out in a letter to the city in October of last year. The reply from city hall? “The sign guidelines state that sign text shall consist of the business name or logo, suggesting that telephone numbers are not encouraged,” they responded in a letter.
The city’s planning department expresses concerns about the telephone number in a report to council: “Having both the name and the phone number on the applicant’s sign has resulted in a somewhat squished look,” they write.
Take a look around town for telephone numbers on business signs and you’ll see them everywhere. A few blocks from the Arlington Building, the font on the telephone number at Little Caesar’s Pizza is about a foot high. It’s just one of many businesses with telephone numbers on their signs – although council heard many of those signs had been grandfathered in.
The telephone number is important for her new small business, explains Schneider. She’s often busy treating clients and can’t afford to hire a receptionist for her small, two-room spa. Her door is often locked. A strolling heli-skier can ring up and make an appointment if they know the telephone number. Since she was forced to remove the sign, she says business has dropped by 15 per cent.
The back-and-forth paperwork struggle started in October. The pages and pages of reports on the small sign show city staff have spent a lot of time worrying about the sign. It shows the process can be odious and resource-sapping for small businesses.
At their May 22 meeting, council was somewhat split on the issue. Coun. Gary Starling wanted to make an exception for the sign. “We’ve got several other businesses that prominently display phone numbers,” Starling said. “I would suggest we allow this sign to stand as it was.”
But Coun. Chris Johnston said making an exception was not the way. If there are problems with the sign bylaw, the bylaw needs to be fixed.
Mayor David Raven said the sign bylaw had caused city council much grief over the past few years. “Signs have probably been one of the most contentious issues that have come up time and time again. We’ve tried to address that,” Raven said. He pointed to a change a few years ago that moved final approval from council to the development review committee. He also said sometimes the grief was due to businesses trying to skirt the sign bylaw. Schneider admits she put up the sign before she got final approval from the city, saying she wasn’t aware it was such an “intensive” process. She made the application and ordered the sign at about the same time – a mistake.
PHOTO: Karen Schneider
In the end, council gave Schneider’s sign the thumbs down. A move by Coun. Starling to let it stay didn’t get a seconder. But Coun. Chris Johnston did introduce a new motion to review the sign bylaw overall, which was passed by council.
Schneider shook her head as council delivered the verdict. “I’m learning as I go, and will gracefully accept defeat and make new signs, but I think it’s a shame that the whole process for small business owners is so difficult and time consuming,” Schneider told the Times Review. “It definitely puts a damper on the entrepreneurial spirit that the city should be embracing and encouraging.”
She feels what is lacking in the process is a spirit of cooperation. “I would like to express concern that the development review committee has total control over what information is deemed acceptable on a sign,” she said. “It seems to me that at least some of this should rest in the hands of the small business owner. The [committee] is not a marketing expert and should not be playing that role. I am concerned that the bylaw seems to be applied on a case-by-case basis, as there are many signs in various formats with phone numbers on them, and they are both new and old signs.”
So, what’s next for Schneider? She took down the sign to avoid a penalty. She’ll start again at square one, issuing a new application for another sign. “I’ve been in business for a year and I still don’t have a sign up – this has been frustrating and has definitely impacted business,” she added.
Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce executive director Judy Goodman said she has heard of issues with the sign approval process during her short time in the position over the past month. She said the chamber is willing to work with members on the issue and their sign application, but she added that because she’s only been here for a short time, she doesn’t have much experience with the issue. She did say the chamber’s application for a new sign on their new tourist information centre went smoothly.