Subway sandwich shop owner Mona Jazzar just wants a sign. Not a signal from heaven, but a way to advertise her struggling business amid a struggling economy.
For two years, Jazzar and other tenants of Causeway Plaza, a lonely looking shopping center on the northwest corner of Bayshore Boulevard and the Dunedin Causeway, have been pushing the city to loosen its sign restrictions, which they say are partly to blame for their downtick in customers.
An additional problem, tenants say, is that the plaza owner has declined to upgrade the center's small roadside sign, so passers-by don't even notice they are there. The merchants have tried flag banners, garage sale-type signs and parking their vehicles near the road with signs attached. But each time, the city cried foul — such devices are prohibited under current city ordinances.
"Which is uglier: empty businesses or signs?" Jazzar said this week while she stood inside her empty restaurant as the lunch hour approached. She said she's had to reduce her staff of six to three in recent years: "If I close, that's more job loss and less taxes going to the city."
Relief may be on the way.
Under a proposal to come before the City Commission next week, the city would temporarily grant businesses an "economic hardship" exemption, allowing them to use advertising devices typically rejected by the city as too tacky or distracting. Possible examples include costumed or sign-toting mascots, vehicle wrap signs and outdoor dining-area umbrella structures bearing the name of the business.
Staff is recommending that the city allow these exemptions any time the county employment rate is 8 percent or higher.
Greg Rice, Dunedin's director of planning and development, said the city's local planning agency, a citizen advisory board that reviews all matters affecting the land development code, lent its unanimous support to the measure last month. Asked by the LPA to review the matter, the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association said it had "no comments or objections."
"We understand a lot of businesses are in the worst economic climate in the last 20 years," Rice said.
Public hearings on the matter, set for Sept. 8 and 22, will continue dialogue from a November City Commission workshop on the sign code. At that meeting, Jazzar's daughter, Reina Monsour, said the merchants were willing to work with the city to purchase new, modern-looking signs.
Causeway Cleaners owner Steve Milby, who estimates business has dropped off 30 percent over the last five years, said the revised ordinance would help.
But he hopes they don't wait "until it gets so bad that we go out of business. After all the cows are out of the barn, don't shut the barn door then," he said.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.