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Quigley: Controversy marks sign of the times

Community Voice

Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
John Quigley is the president of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind. Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?" So goes the 1971 song by the Five Man Electrical Band.

Long-haired freaky people aren’t alone in their concern with the size, look and use of signage. An Elmhurst man, after being charged with theft when surveillance video allegedly showed him taking a sidewalk sandwich board belonging to a downtown business and placing it outside City Hall, claimed that the A-frame sign was illegal by city code and a safety hazard.

While sandwich boards are “technically” illegal in Elmhurst, city officials eased off enforcement in an effort to support local businesses in the face of a still-challenging economy.

Ironically, within the past year, the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission’s Signage Committee, with input from Elmhurst City Centre and the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry, formulated recommendations for updating the city’s signage ordinance – including language to permit sandwich boards and revisions for the business use of electronic signage.

The Elmhurst City Council might have had an opportunity to vote on those ordinance changes if its Development, Planning and Zoning Committee had not been so busy dealing with major public-private projects such as the Addison Parking Garage and Hahn Street Redevelopment, as well as the redevelopment of the former Elmhurst Memorial Hospital site.

Too often, municipalities base their signage ordinance on a one-size-fits-all approach and/or an ease-of-enforcement concern, rather than from the perspective of customer satisfaction. Signs that are appropriate for downtown Elmhurst, Spring Road, York and Vallette or other more-pedestrian friendly locales, may not be proper for vehicular-heavy zones such as Route 83 at North Avenue and St. Charles Road, Lake Street and Grand Avenue. And vice versa.

For example, auto dealerships on North York Street, Lake Street and Grand Avenue want (and need) signage that is visible to traffic on Interstate 290. And Spring Road doesn’t.

Sandwich boards became popular in 19th century London, where a new tax on advertising posters and limited wall space led businesses to hire humans sandwiched between two boards. Today, for many in the food and beverage industry, sandwich boards are used to market their menu or promote the daily specials to lure pedestrian customers.

While the once-common projecting sign has long since been illegal in Elmhurst, can you imagine how York Theatre would look with a wall sign in place of its iconic marquee?

"You were absolutely right. You've been right all along," sang Five Man Electrical Band. "You're absolutely right and I'm wrong."

John R. Quigley is president and CEO of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce.

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