Sign of the Times?

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Sign of the Times?

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- A controversial ruling restricting advertising in Savannah's historic district has retailers crying foul.

Flashing neon signs and hanging banners are coming down in Savannah, as the city tries to save its historic atmosphere in the face of aggressive advertising. City workers have begun enforcing a law passed a year ago prohibiting temporary signs in an effort to reduce "visual clutter" in the city's commercial areas, the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune reported.

Businesses said the rules will hurt the city's economy by making its retailers uncompetitive. "People are dying to know who has the cheaper prices, you or the station across the street, and they don't want to have to come inside to see," said Sunil Sheth, manager of Time Saver convenience store. "We need these signs."

But the store's lottery and cigarette signs have been removed. A "Pay at the Pump" banner hanging from the roof of Time Saver had to go. The store sells Chevron-branded gasoline.

Balloons, most flags and posters aren't allowed either. "Convenience stores and fast-food places are good, but some have gotten to the point where their attempt to visually get everyone's attention gets to be overly blighting," said City Manager Michael Brown. "We'll work with all of them."

Penalties include up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. Temporary signs may be hung if a business buys a $30 permit from the city, which allows signs to be displayed for 30 straight days every three months.

Bill Daniel, vice president for Vaden Dealerships, said strict requirements on businesses in the town's historic district will hurt the retailers there. "The bottom line is I think that restricting a retailer to a quarterly event is unrealistic and is sadly an example of the city not being aware of what the business community needs to be competitive," Daniel said. "I don't think free enterprise is ugly."

The ordinance was not enforced for six months because some businesses said they weren't involved in the lawmaking process, the report said. During that time, Brown met with local retailers and agreed to allow them to continue hanging promotional "rally flags" that hug poles.