Parenting advice for the City

The recent enforcement of an old sign ordinance in the municipal code has local business owners up in arms. Although the ordinance apparently exists in order to ensure an aesthetic appeal in Ashland, the lack of enforcement has allowed &

perhaps even encouraged &

business owners to institute creative measures to stand out among the many appealing venues in our fair city.

Many of these innovative ideas have been around so long that they've become part and parcel of the allure in Ashland. Tourists and locals alike have enjoyed the presence of stuffed bears and giraffes, sculpted lions and other such sundry items situated on sidewalks. Not only do these items draw attention and add to the character and culture of the town, but they also serve as invitations to potential customers to visit downtown businesses and help support the local economy.

It may seem a bit of a stretch to claim that stuffed animals, toys and statues can have such a strong impact in the marketing of a store or restaurant, but consider the very real claims of two local business owners:

Allyson's restaurant exists in an out-of-the-way basement off the beaten path of most of the walking traffic. Its signboard placed on the sidewalk informs passersby there is food downstairs. Upon arrival, guests discover an array of kitchen items, cooking classes, etc. Allyson's tiny menu board has helped the business succeed. The City's insistence that it be removed has compelled the owner to consider moving her headquarters to Bend, where she plans to open an additional store.

Across the street, down an alley, with no indications of its existence along the main thoroughfare, is Shakespeare Co. Bookstore. The owners, in an attempt to draw attention to its location, regularly place books and toys in a red wagon at the intersection of the alley and the main sidewalk. A small sign informs visitors there is a bookstore at the other end of that alley. Without the wagon and sign, the business has been severely impacted. Its owners produced sales receipts that show a precipitous plummet since the removal of its only visible means of marketing.

When Ashland businesses suffer, so do city revenues. Ashland once boasted a $100 million budget. Today it is $95 million and trending downward. Although some may argue the overall economy is the reason, tax revenues from local businesses are also down. And decisions that adversely impact local businesses for the sake of tidying up the city and forcing adherence to the letter of the law have ignored the overall economic impact of sudden enforcement.

For many years the City has allowed business owners to leave their toys on the sidewalk despite an ordinance prohibiting such creativity. The existence of a law without enforcement isn't enough to command adherence. And without enforcement, ordinances evolve into a mere paper trail of useless bureaucratic ideas that may need alteration or purging from the municipal code.

Recently the City decided to play parent to local business owners, telling them to pick up all toys and put them away. But some of those toys are now core to the character of the city and integral to its commerce. The City should be reminded that doing business in Ashland is tough enough without having to fight City Hall.

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