On this past Saturday, a frosty cold day, and then again on Sunday, which was a bit warmer and sunny, Rich Weems of Clinton, CT stood in downtown Madison and waved to motorists passing by, holding a sign advertising National Furniture Liquidators furniture sell-off at the former Ventucci Home in Westbrook, CT.
Weems listened politely when I explained why I was taking his picture, that some small Furniture Liquidators road signs up and down the Boston Post Road, from Old Saybrook to Guilford, did not meet with the approval of the towns' regulators.
Standing outside Scranton Memorial Library, at the corner of Wall Street and Boston Post Road, he put his music player on hold and popped out his ear-buds to reply. He said he hoped his sign would meet with the approval of the town. "I've been job hunting for a long time and this is what I was able to find."
Sorry, Rich, but ...
Rich, his girlfriend Chantal, and several other area residents have been recruited by Furniture Liquidators to advertise the sale up and down the Boston Post Road, a strategy employed after hundreds of small street signs, which also violated zoning regulations, were pulled up by zoning regulators and citizens.
Sadly, for Rich, his girlfriend Chantal, and the guy sitting in the car that was towing the portable billboard in front of Academy School this past week, the human billboards and trailer signs violate town zoning regulations as well.
"Nope, not allowed," said Madison Zoning Enforcement Officer John DeLaura on Tuesday. "Billboards, trailer signs, none of those are allowed."
Zoning officers waging a sort of street-sign guerrilla warfare
DeLaura said the town zoning regulations allow the town to pursue a fine against a company for violations, but that he and other area zoning officers are opting instead to take down the signs as soon as they pop up.
It's sounds kind of like waging street-sign guerrilla warfare. The company, apparently sometimes at night, under the cover of darkness, goes out and puts them up. The next day, town officials and self-deputized town residents conduct a raid and take them down.
"We've gotten rid of about 500 of them" said DeLaura, adding he had no immediate plans to begin the process of levying fines, in part because it is difficult to find the right entity to sue, and in part because he hopes his strategy of pulling up signs will work.
Working with zoning officers along the shoreline, trying to figure out the best strategy
DeLaura is working with zoning enforcement officers in towns from Guilford to Old Saybrook to most effectively deal with the pop-up signs, referred to by some as "street spam."
DeLaura noted that the commercial signs, which have been posted randomly and profusely along public roadways, are not protected by town zoning regulations, as are political signs and modestly sized commercial signs put up with the permission of the homeowner, such as those indicating the company doing work on a house, for example.
Those signs, when posted with the permission of the homeowner and when they are the appropriate size as called for in the town zoning regulations, are allowed.
From 50 percent off, to 80 percent off
DeLaura said he has called the number listed for Furniture Liquidators, and is trying to track down the best person to talk with, but that his calls are not being returned. He also took a trip out to the former Ventucci Home in Westbrook, CT and was encouraged by what he saw. The 50 percent off signs are now down to 80 percent off.
DeLaura said, based on his research and past experience, that the signs will soon disappear of their own accord.
"We anticipate and hope this won't be a problem much longer," he said.
"It pays the rent, at least part of it ... "
Rich, in the meantime, said Sunday he hoped his sign was not making anyone upset.
He said it's not his first choice of his job, that he would prefer to be working in landscaping. Still, working outside in the cold helping a company advertise a sale is better than not working at all, for him and Chantal, he says.
"It pays the rent. At least part of it," he said. And then he popped his ear-buds back in, continued listening to songs by the ska punk band Sublime, and holding his sign, waved to motorists passing by.