Business owners speak out about sign fines in Tupelo

By Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal

NEW CODE Tupelo’s development department has proposed a new code it says will be friendlier toward businesses. It’s holding a public hearing Monday at 6 p.m. at City Hall to get feedback

TUPELO – Mention “store signs” if you want to get a Tupelo business owner riled up.
The topic has been a hot issue as the city’s code enforcers have cracked down on violations this year. Business owners have received citations for banners, open signs and flashing signs that aren’t in compliance with the city code.
Several of the owners question say being threatened with fines makes it tough to operate their businesses.
“It’s real hard to have a business in this day and time,” said Linda Hale, owner of Red Door Antiques on Coley Road. “A lot of businesses are going out of business. … I feel they need to be helping small businesses stay open.”
Hale got a citation letter for two “open” banners she had on her store. She said she used them to tell motorists when she was open and compared them with the “open” sandwich board signs the downtown retailers have. She said she hung up the banners and took them down daily.
But, the letter said she wasn’t allowed to have them up without paying for a permit. And even then, she’d have a set a time limit for when they’d be allowed.
“My $175 is rolled up in the closet,” she said Friday. “Now I drag stuff out on the sidewalk to let people know I’m open. … I understand what they are trying to do, but it seems like a lot of people are exempt. … I’m for the city trying to make things look nicer, but I think there needs to be more communication.”
George Partlow, owner of Hunter’s Haven off Cliff Gookin Boulevard, also has found himself on the wrong side of the law. He said he got a citation letter regarding banners he put on his fence that advertised the brands he carries.
Another time, he trimmed branches at the business and put the trimmings by the road, as he would at his house, for the city to pick up. Later, he got a call about the pile near the road.
“They will not pick up commercial business trimmings,” he said. “Why will they not provide that service when I pay more taxes here? A lot of this stuff is not business friendly.”
He estimates he pays about $8,000 each month in local, state and federal taxes.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I love Tupelo. I’m going to die here. But if I was going to start a new business, it would not be in Tupelo, Mississippi. I would find a little more friendly town for a small business.”
City Planner Pat Falkner said the city has provided opportunities for input from businesses on the new code under development and believes it will be an improvement.
“This code is intended to create more opportunities in more places for businesses,” Falkner said. “It’s intended to be more friendly to private business than our last code was.”
Partlow heard about the city’s work sessions regarding the new code, but said he’s been running the store and hasn’t been able to make the sessions. Hale said the same thing.
“It was on a day when the store was open and I don’t have any employees so I couldn’t go,” she said.
Hale and Partlow said they hope the new code truly is friendlier to businesses. And Hale hopes the city spends the time to educate business owners about the ordinances before citations are issued.
“I think it would be helpful if they did a little more (public relations) work than just blazing in,” she said. “They need more publicity in layman’s terms.”
Walter Partlow, owner of Tupelo Tire and Wheel on McCullough Boulevard, said he feels the ordinance banning flashing lights on his “open” sign is “a big waste of time and money. I feel the ordinance needs to be changed.”
Jim Hawkins, co-owner of Room to Room Furniture, termed the city’s enforcement “pretty lopsided. I think the community as a whole is pretty fed up with it. I’m sure it’s a problem everywhere, but it’s certainly a problem here.”

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