Sandwich boards: A menace to society?

POULSBO — On any given day, there are about two dozen of them along Front Street in Poulsbo’s downtown core. For a two-block stretch of sidewalk, that’s no small number.

They are sandwich boards. And they’re as necessary as they are detrimental. Their presence, a true Catch-22.

So the city of Poulsbo and the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association (HDPA) are pulling their creativity together and hoping two agencies will be greater than one in finding a suitable solution for all parties. In a situation affecting business owners as much as it does one-time downtown tourists, it seems they’ve already got some decent options from which to choose.

The city currently allows sandwich boards no greater than six square feet in size on privately owned business property. City Planning Director Barry Berezowsky said he is aware many Front Street sandwich boards don’t comply with the regulations, but the city only enforces the rule on a complaint basis. A first citation for improper placement of a sandwich board is $250, the next is much more substantial, he said.

The trouble with the things is when placed on public right-of-way sidewalk spaces, they pose the problem of tripping pedestrians, blocking storefront and handicap accesses, invading a person’s line of sight and detracting from the downtown’s beloved Scandinavian atmosphere and charm. They can also be hazardous in a wind storm, Berezowsky said.

A city similar to Poulsbo in its displays of heritage, Leavenworth has banned the marketing devices. Leavenworth Codes Administrator Patrick Dalton said the Bavarian village specifically prohibits the use of sandwich boards, with a few exceptions in the case of real estate signage. He said city officials felt the apparatuses detracted from the town’s cultural theme and posed a safety hazard.

“Being a small city with a small core area we feel like it just clutters up the area too much,” he said.

HDPA president and Tizley’s Europub and Europa Deli owner Tammy Mattson said Poulsbo’s codes need some clarification when it comes to sandwich board tolerance, but the downtown merchant organization is also working on coming up with potential alternatives to their presence. They’ll bring those ideas to the city’s next Public Safety/Legal (PSL) Committee meeting in February.

“We’re trying to work with the city cooperatively to have good visual marketing tools for business locations without having obstacles,” she said, adding especially for merchants along Jensen Way, which doesn’t appear at first glance to be a part of the downtown shopping core, those sandwich boards are vital for business.

“For them, it’s absolutely critical,” she said.

The HDPA has so far considered developing the Jensen corridor to look more like an inviting retail path, as well as directional sign posts with arrows leading to various downtown business that would less clutter Front Street’s sidewalks but still afford information for Poulsbo’s visitors.

Councilwoman and PSL committee member Kim Crowder said there is a fear of people injuring themselves by tripping over the boards. But just as strong is the fear that without them, some businesses would take a major hit.

She, too, has considered the directional sign post idea, as well as the idea of a business map for the community, allowing residents and visitors to know what is available to them and where.

“We have to have some kind of a solution,” she said.

Crowder has spearheaded the city’s new Economic Development Committee, which is expected to be up and running this year. Until then, the PSL committee will continue to take on the task. It meets from 6-7 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month.

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