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Blowing Rock Council Considers Regulating Display of Outside Merchandise Along Sidewalks in Downtown Area

By Jesse Wood

Where would sandwich boards be allowed under current proposal?
Where would sandwich boards be allowed under current proposal? Click to enlarge.

June 11, 2014. On Tuesday night, the Blowing Rock Town Council returned a proposal to regulate sandwich boards to the town’s Planning Board for various reasons – including tying it to the issue of displaying merchandise along the sidewalks of downtown Blowing Rock.

Sandwich Boards Planning & Inspections Director Kevin Rothrock said that several business owners over the past few years have asked the town to allow sandwich boards to promote special sales and promotions.

Currently, sandwich boards along with other temporary signs are not allowed under the current Land Use Ordinance except for special public events such as WinterFest, Art in the Park and the Farmers’ Market.

Under the proposal that the Planning Board crafted in March and May meetings, sandwich boards would be allowed if:

  • they were no larger than four square feet per side
  • they were not displayed overnight;
  • they didn’t impede a public sidewalk or code-required exit
  • four feet of sidewalk clearance for pedestrian traffic in all directions remains
  • they consist of a black chalkboard with a wooden frame
sandwich boards
Possible examples of sandwich boards provided by Blowing Rock Planning & Inspections staff

Before deciding to return the issue to the planning board and tying it to the regulation or elimination of outdoor merchandise in downtown Blowing Rock (more on that below), the council heard from the community during a public hearing on the matter.

Karen Hedrick of South Marke, a boutique at the southern end of Main Street, didn’t like the blackboard and chalk variation. “I think blackboard and chalk outside look terrible personally,” Hedrick said.

Greg Tarbutton of Chetola Resort, who noted that he didn’t have a “dog in this fight,” said that the uniformity of the current sign ordinance has contributed to the unique character of the village. He suggested that the Planning Board come up with a few sharp framing designs for merchants to choose from.

Rothrock – after the public hearing and after Councilman Al Young noted his preference for dry erase boards – mentioned that the planning board started with a basic design and would gladly entertain more variety of designs at the discretion of the council.

Outside Merchandise

Before the council officially motioned to return this matter to the planning board, the discussion turned to the topic of merchants putting merchandise outside of their shops, particularly along the sidewalks of Main Street.

Councilman Doug Matheson said he assumed the sandwich board idea was proposed to keep merchandise inside of the shops – and not outside. Rothrock mentioned that regulation of outside merchandise was not included in this ordinance amendment.

Some of the council members and Mayor J.B. Lawrence assumed the town had some kind of “rule” pertaining to merchants setting up merchandise outside of their shops.

Rothrock said while the town has a code to keep the sidewalks clear, no official ordinance pertains to outside merchandise. He said that the unspoken, informal “rule” is the Craig’s Grocery rule because of the 18-inch vegetable setup that was present during the historic grocer’s run. Rothrock mentioned that in 2001 this topic came up, and the merchant’s association and the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce came before the council and said, “Let us police ourselves.”

(Hedrick recalled those council meetings and said those were “very contentious” times. She mentioned the issue came about after Jack Hall of Sunset Tee’s and Hattery began displaying merchandise that was outside but on his own property.)

Rothrock noted that while the self-policing effort seemed to have worked, the amount of merchandise setup outside “seems to have grown” over the past 13 years. It was noted by at least one of the officials that the issue has become a safety concern.

Councilwoman Sue Sweeting said this issue needs to be addressed because merchandise is piling up and placed on both sides of benches that exist along Main Street.

And as Councilman Ray Pickett said, “Some people display very well and don’t get out in the sidewalks, others …”

Councilman Dan Phillips said that people come to Blowing Rock specifically to shop, so merchants don’t necessarily need to display merchandise outside because people will walk into a store and browse.

“After a while it starts to look like a flea market,” Phillips said.

Mayor J.B. Lawrence suggested sending the entire sandwich board amendment back to the planning board and tying it to the issue of displaying merchandise outside.

The council unanimously agreed.

Below are some examples of outdoor merchandise displays along Main Street.

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