With downtown Lake Geneva merchants objecting to a ban on outdoor displays of merchandise, aldermen have agreed to take another look at the ban.
Several merchants spoke out against the city’s rules May 6 during a meeting of the Lake Geneva City Council committee of the whole at City Hall.
Council members agreed to discuss possible revisions to the ordinance covering storefront displays during a public works committee meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. May 14.
Alderwoman Cindy Flower, who chairs the public works committee, urged business owners to show up again May 14 to continue expressing themselves on the issue.
Flower said she hopes to resolve the matter before Memorial Day and the start of the busy downtown tourist season.
“I don’t know if we will discuss everything they want, but we will get started,” she said. “Hopefully, we can get something going and passed before Memorial Day, if we time it right.”
Although he has defended the ban previously, Mayor Tom Hartz said he, too, is pleased that aldermen are planning to reconsider it.
“We will continue to look at that ordinance and see if it still makes sense,” Hartz said.
Several downtown merchants in recent weeks have received city notices informing them that they are not allowed to display merchandise or sandwich board signs outside their businesses without a permit.
Some have been warned that they could be fined up to $1,000 under an ordinance that has been on the books for more than 20 years — but that has not been aggressively enforced until this year.
About a half-dozen downtown merchants told aldermen May 6 that the ban on sidewalk displays is unfair and would hurt their business.
Melissa Reuss, owner of Geneva Gifts, 150 Broad St., said she and other downtown business owners should be allowed to display merchandise outside their stores, especially considering that restaurants are allowed to have outdoor seating.
“I feel outdoor dinning infringes on traffic flow more than a few shirts or signs,” she said.
Reuss said she feels her businesses and others are being targeted because, she said, they do not have the same upscale appeal as other establishments.
“We don’t have high prices,” she said. “We’re not fancy stores, but, collectively, we’ve been in business for a long, long time.”
Beth Tumas, owner of the Bottle Shop, 617 W. Main St., said she received a notice about a month ago that she is no longer allowed to place a sandwich board sign outside of her liquor store and winery.
Tumas said she uses the signs to attract customers by announcing sales, promotions and special events.
“I offer complimentary wine samplings, all promoted by one little sign,” she said. “We get many people who see the sign and come on in.”
No business owners or aldermen spoke in favor of continuing the prohibition on outdoor merchandise displays.
Joanne Patzfahl, owner of Treasure Cove Gifts, 146 Broad St., said displaying merchandise outside her business helps her attract customers, too.
“I just want to put a few shirts outside,” Patzfahl said. “That’s how we get our business inside.”
Bob Lee, owner of Bob’s Beach Shack, 140 Broad St., said he has been in business for 12 years, and this is the first time he has received a notice about needing a permit to display merchandise.
Lee told aldermen that displaying merchandise outside his clothing and gift shop helps him to compete with online shopping and big-box retailers.
“The retail landscape has changed dramatically over the years,” he said. “This restrictive ordinance is out of place in today’s retail climate.”