October 8, 1995 in City

Bureaucrats Taking Steam Out Of Coffee Shop

By The Spokesman-Review

Jim and Shirley Sutton had to dip into savings to keep their tiny Peyton Building coffee shop afloat during the messy marathon building of Spokane’s downtown bus depot.

For nearly two years, they watched their business dwindle because of the barricaded streets and the noise and confusion of dump trucks and jackhammers.

But they toughed it out.

The Transit Authority’s overpriced boondoggle went up. The streets finally cleared. The long-suffering Suttons thought they were home free.

Until the city came up with its latest screwball plan.

It happened when some female Barney Fife from the code enforcement office set off on a quest to make city sidewalks safe from sandwich-board advertising.

One might pray that picking on a few sandwich signs would be even too trivial for our public-paid nitwits. Apparently, no opportunity to meddle slips past them.

Citing an obscure ordinance, the enforcement agent went on the prowl, ordering a number of small-business owners to yank their signs or else.

People who encountered the woman uniformly describe her as obnoxious, officious and overbearing.

For the Suttons, the loss of the sandwich board was devastating. They have no storefront windows nor a sign on the Post Street side of the Peyton Building, 10 N. Post.

Their cafe is tucked away on the first floor. If you don’t already know it’s there, you’d never think of wandering in for a slice of Shirley’s homemade pies, a fresh cinnamon roll or an oven-baked turkey sandwich.

“Not having our sign has about killed us,” says Jim, a retired middle-school teacher who has run the cafe with his wife for 13 years. “We used to get a lot of tourists. Now nobody knows we exist. Our breakfast business is down to nothing. Our lunches are down 70 percent.”

City Hall pooh-bahs talk big about the importance of keeping the downtown business district alive.

This attack, however, makes me wonder if code enforcement employees own stock in a shopping mall.

The two dozen downtown sidewalk sandwich signs don’t hurt anyone. They are no more impediments to foot traffic than parking meters, planters or trees.

Besides, the city routinely sells permits to restaurants wanting to use the sidewalks for outdoor dining and espresso carts.

But I guess an obstruction is only something the city can’t cash in on.

Sandwich signs “add character to the sidewalks,” agrees Jim Kolva, a city planner and council candidate who wants to change the zoning code to allow the signs.

The city, however, may ignore sandwich signs even if the law is unchanged. All the hard feelings has code enforcement personnel perspiring pellets.

“I don’t know what the hell to do,” says Terry Clegg, assistant director of city code enforcement.

“If I could go over and tell ‘em to put the cotton-picking signs out, I’d do it. But we’re scared to tell them to put ‘em back. You’d have to retract the whole cotton-picking thing.

“We’re trying to make a better downtown. We don’t want to make it worse.”

Well, I’ll be a cotton picker.

Clegg says the city began paying attention to sidewalk signs when the Ruby Street couplet opened last year. Beleaguered shopkeepers - those who hadn’t been bankrupted by the glacial-paced construction of that project - put up a few homemade signs to tell drivers they were still alive.

The sly foxes at the city saw it as yet another opportunity to pluck a few taxpayers. Code enforcement agents ordered the illegal signage yanked and replaced with official, city-approved signs.

Business owners were told they could get their names on the spiffy, legal new signs. For 200 bucks a pop.

You know, sometimes our bureaucrats should be hog-tied and forced to watch other people mind their own business.

, DataTimes

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