Mattress business set to become first to test sign ordinance

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Dennis McDonald, owner of Mattress Guys at 351 N. Kingshighway, says his yellow banner facing the street is the lifeblood of his business.

"Without that I'm sunk," he said. "Three times it's happened that the sign gets blown down in a storm. During those weeks my business just goes to nothing."

However, Cape Girardeau City Hall calls this advertising a violation of the sign ordinance. On Sept. 26, McDonald won the dubious honor of being the first business owner taken to court for violating the ordinance.

McDonald, who has now received two court summonses, says he's standing firm.

"This is a great town with a low-crime rate; a great place to do business and raise my kids," said McDonald, who moved from Paducah, Ky., in March 2005.

"But you see, the day I take that banner down and have to wait two, three, four weeks to get my permit and maybe four more weeks to get a new sign, boy I'm busted then. It'll put me right out of business."

McDonald's next court date is set for today, and he has not decided what his plea will be. No official contacted for this story knew what the maximum fine is for violating the ordinance.

Last amended in August, the ordinance has been more than two years in the making and provoked widespread outcry from business owners and garage sale enthusiasts once enforcement began in April.

The final version prohibits all business-owned banner signs strung between fixed posts. It allows one banner mounted on the face of a business establishment.

McDonald's sign is strung at the base of a commercial sign on his premises. McDonald says he leases the approximately 30-foot sign to Lamar Advertising based in Louisiana. He says he has Lamar's permission to place the mattress sign there.

McDonald has petitioned Tim Morgan, director of inspections services, for a permanent sign permit at the same location. The petition is stalled due to questions about who owns the commercial sign and where the city right of way is situated. McDonald has received estimates of between $3,000 and $6,000 to build a free-standing sign.

But his petition doesn't change the legality of his banner, police officers say.

Nuissance abatement supervisor Ty Metzger says he has visited Mattress Guys four or five times since May asking that the banner sign be removed. He believes the police department has acted reasonably in only issuing McDonald two summonses during this period.

"We've bent over backward," said Metzger. "I could write him a summons every day of the week if I wanted to."

"He's got to understand more than 95 percent of the people we've dealt with have complied, but as long as we have people like him who refuse to comply the others can point to his sign and say, 'what about him?'"

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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