The City of Revelstoke has given the owner of the moveable letterboard sign located out front of the former P&T Farm Market until Sept. 9 to get rid of it or face legal action.
The move sparked a protest by the sign’s owner, who on Aug. 29 took action. “City says sign bad must go,” he wrote on one side. “So much for free speech,” he posted on the other.
Neighbouring business Jacobson Ford got into the action too: “Ford says sign good!! Please stay!!” Not missing a beat, on the other side they added: “Buy a car and speak your mind!”
The sign has been a source of amusement to commuters who looked forward to the sign’s frequently-changing messages. When they started several months ago, they sought to entice potential clients into the vacant building on the lot.
However, the sign soon expanded into general comedy, seeking to crack up drivers as they passed by on the busy Victoria Road commuter route.
The City of Revelstoke, however, says some residents are not laughing, and the sign and its sometimes snarky messages were a blight on their commute to work.
City bylaw enforcement officer Tim Luini said the city had received “quite a few” complaints about the sign, and a recent posting had upset some residents, prompting even more complaints.
“Some of the comments that were on the sign is what got people complaining about it, more than anything,” Luini said. “Others thought it was quite funny. But, sometimes as soon as you sort of cross that line, that’s the one time — from my understanding — that a lot of the complaints came in.” He said the sign had been on his to-do list for a while. The posting that offended most came while he was away on vacation and he took action when he returned.
Luini said he wasn’t aware what the offensive message was and added it was beside the point.
Moveable signs like the one in question are not allowed in Revelstoke, he said. They have been banned for years because they are often moved around and obscure lines of sight. Without a prohibition, they tend to proliferate.
So, the city sent the letter and is giving the owner a grace period until Sept. 9 because he had committed to advertising a charity event on the sign.
What about Jacobson Ford, who has a similar sign out front? Luini told the Times Review that a letter asking them to remove their sign had already been sent. This was news to a salesman who wandered over to talk to me as I was taking pictures of the sign on Monday afternoon. It was all about having a little fun, he said.
Luini also said another property owner had also been asked to remove their sign on Victoria Road. What happens if the owners don’t take down the signs? “Then we proceed with legal actions,” Luini said, adding they first try to work through bylaw issues with the owners. The owners could also apply to the city to put up a permanent sign.
What about the idea that the city was lacking a sense of humour on the issue? “We have to go with bylaws that are approved by council,” he said. In fact, the approval process for fixed signs is relatively intensive and approval is required from a special committee.
The Times Review attempted to contact the business owner on Monday, but an employee at his place of business said he would be away until tomorrow. We’ll follow up then.
UPDATE: Aug. 29, 10:10 p.m.
Revelstoke businessman Peter Humphreys bought the former P&T Market property in April.
He’s planning to divide it up into smaller retail units and has been seeking tenants ever since.
His letterboard sign comedy career was a result of several circumstances coming together.
When he was negotiating the purchase of the building, he says they were at a deadlock on price, so he looked around for other things that could be thrown into the deal.
That’s when he saw the letterboard sign, which became his when the papers were signed.
It sat beside the building for a while until he had some lumber and other items from the building to get rid of, so he hauled it out and posted a ‘free stuff’ sign. And the debris was soon gone. “Everything just went immediately,” he said.
That’s when the realization set in: “Wow! People are reading this thing.”
From there, he said he wanted to keep the building looking fresh, saying it was partly civic pride that kept him going. “I didn’t want the building to look abandoned,” he said, so he started coming up with jokes for commuters.
He has no comedy training. “It’s funny where your mind gets going,” he says. He drew lots of inspiration from songs. “I was having fun with it. Whatever pops into my head.”
He even learned a key habit of successful comedians; he kept a notebook close to write down ideas before they slipped away.
He also struggles with a serious limitation many may not be aware of. He has a limited set of letters. “You get this great idea in your head and you’re laying it out on the floor and you’re missing a letter,” Humphreys says. One slogan was dashed when he realized “I don’t have enough zeds.”
He also got encouragement from passersby, saying just the other day a cyclist stopped to tell him she enjoyed the messages.
Humphreys says he avoided political messages, but says maybe some offence came after the sign was hacked. Twice the words were rearranged in the night when pranksters inserted harder language than his fun messages. “I think it was kids in the middle of the night,” he said, noting that the pranksters were respectful and piled up the letters they didn’t need next to the front door of the store. “Nobody damaged anything. It wasn’t malicious.”
His signboard messages today were his first political statements, ones he wrote after he got the cease and desist letter. Humphreys says he’s bummed at the message from the city: “No more fun for you. You’re done. It gets your hackles up. Why do you need to do that?” he asked.
What happens next? He’s not sure. “There’s half of me that says fight it until they take it away,” he said, saying the sign could be put up on the roof.
He reminds me that his plan is to renovate the building and divide it up. “At some point I will have to apply for a building permit.”
For now, he explains his plan is like this: “If people like the sign, I might just keep going until things happen as they will.”
UPDATE: Aug. 30, 10:25 p.m.
When we spoke with Peter Humphreys on the phone last night, he said he’d send along the messages that appeared on the sign, which he wrote down in the notebook.
Here are the messages. It’s not a complete list and some of the dates are unknown:
June 12: Free ceiling tiles. Great Father’s day gift
June ?: Quit the railway and open a Booster Juice
June ?: Mr. S. Jobs. Please call back about leasing
June ?: Yo just say NO to the beer and nacho tax
June ?: New Math – 7 PST & 5 GST is less than 10% HST
June or July: For a good time call 867-5309
June or July: Welcome to Rev. Stay awhile – spend lots.
July ?: Timba Days Day Sat
July ?: Mmmm … Donuts
July 16: If you lived here you could watch trains every day
Opposite side: If you lived here you would be on the lake by now
July 18: Teenagers are punishment for past sins
July 23: Wives are a gift from Heaven
July 29: 4/5 people read this sign. The last one is on the phone
Aug 1: Zoom
Aug 4: I bought this building for the sign
Aug 8: Does anyone work in Aug?
Aug 8: I have a ltd num of letters
Aug 11: Free flowers – U pick out back.
Aug 16: The sign says you’ve got to have a mbrship card to get inside. – 3 man …
Aug 23: This is not a portable reader sign – I’m urban art
Aug 25: This sign was used for traffic contol at the last spike
Aug 25: Good day eh
What do you think? Is the city lacking a sense of humour and going too far? Or is it reasonable that these signs are prohibited and the ban enforced to prevent a cluttered mess of letterboards across the city? Did you have a favourite saying from the sign? Why not post it below?