Downtown sidewalks are feeling a little less cluttered lately, as dozens of sandwich boards advertising local businesses have quietly been disappearing.
The City of Victoria’s portable sign bylaw came into effect Jan. 16, requiring businesses to pay $165 – which will drop to $135 in subsequent years – for an annual permit to use city space for advertising purposes.
“Up until this year, portable signs were actually prohibited in the City of Victoria,” Mayor Dean Fortin said.
As in most cities, bylaw enforcement in Victoria operates on a complaint-driven basis, meaning each infraction requires a written complaint to city hall before a business is fined.
“So rather than enforcing and getting rid of them all, we wanted to create a fair and level playing field for all interests,” Fortin said.
Biagio Woodward, owner of Cherry Bomb Toys on Broad Street, said he’s frustrated that a few aggressive businesses upset an otherwise non-intrusive advertising practice.
“We’ve been putting a sandwich board out for the past four-and-a-half years, never had a problem,” he said.
“Of course you need to police it, but if it snows, I’m the one responsible for cleaning the sidewalk. If I want to put a sign there, why do I have to pay for it?”
Woodward said he’ll likely install a larger sign on the side of his building rather than paying to put out a sandwich board.
“I’d rather pay once than keep paying annually,” he said.
The City of Vancouver has strict regulations on the placement and size of sandwich boards, but unlike Victoria, there’s no fee for permits.
That’s an idea that appeals to Mark Besner, manager of One Tooth Fitwear, 1006 Broad St.
“I understand the rules, but if you’re allowed one sign, it should be free if it’s in front of your business. If you want additional signs up on Government Street, then those should cost you,” he said.
As it stands, businesses on Broad Street between Broughton and Fort streets are effectively prohibited from using sandwich boards, as the sidewalk is too narrow under the new bylaw.
“This sidewalk is a mess. It’s cracked and there are asphalt fills where people have tripped,” Besner said. “The city should fix this street, first of all, before worrying about signs in the way.”
The city has issued 37 portable sign permits so far with another five permit applications pending, but Fortin anticipates more applications as bylaw officers spread the word.
“Hopefully we’ve hit the sweet spot where we’re able to help facilitate trade and industry downtown while recognizing that if not regulated well, there will be mobility issues,” he said. “There’s always opportunity for change as we implement the system. We’re still open to feedback.”
See more about the signage rules at victoria.ca/portablesigns.