BERLIN – Planter boxes featuring shingles advertising local shops are still being explored as an alternative to the sandwich signs cluttering Berlin’s sidewalks.
Town officials approached members of the Berlin Historic District Commission (HDC) this week to gauge their interest in planter boxes, sandwich signs and feather flags.
“I have an interest in trying to provide some options to the business owners,” Town Administrator Laura Allen said. “To me, being flexible is the Berlin way.”
Allen said that while a prototype of a planter box that was placed in front of the Atlantic Hotel provided shingles advertising a handful of businesses, other shops used sandwich signs to advertise. Still others used feather flags to draw attention to their stores.
“I’m a little concerned at having too many things on the sidewalk,” Allen said.
She said that if more businesses wanted to use planter boxes, the town would likely make a code change mandating that businesses use one method or the other, but not both.
“At this point, we don’t know how many business owners are interested in the planter box,” she said.
HDC members offered a variety of opinions on the issue. Carol Rose, the chair of the commission, praised the idea of letting businesses choose a method but said she did not support the use of flags downtown. She said flags didn’t fit the town’s historic atmosphere.
“Small town America is what brings people here,” she said. “I will fight to my death to keep that Main Street as beautiful as it is right now.”
HDC member Laura Stearns said she wanted to see consistency. She said the area in front of the hotel was cluttered with signs and the prototype planter.
“The box looks terrible right now,” she said. “I know it’s the offseason but we only have one right now. What’s it going to be like when we have them all over town? It has dead cabbages in it.”
Commission member Mary Moore said she was concerned about pedestrian safety. She called the existing sandwich signs “a detriment to the flow of pedestrian traffic.”
“The sidewalks can’t handle it all,” she said.
Commission member Robert Poli said he didn’t think any shop on Main Street needed a sandwich sign.
“Keep the historic district looking historic,” he said.
After hearing from the HDC, Allen said town staff would be determining whether merchants were interested in using planter boxes in lieu of sandwich signs. If they are, she said a code change was likely. If merchants aren’t interested in the boxes, she said a code change wouldn’t be necessary, as signs would continue to be used as they are now.
The concept of the planter boxes was first introduced last year by the Berlin Arts and Entertainment Committee. Robin Tomaselli, a member of the committee and owner of Baked Dessert Café, said the box was a way businesses could advertise without creating clutter on the sidewalks.
“The Arts and Entertainment Committee, along with Jan Poli, are the ones that came up with the idea because there was so much controversy about the sandwich signs and their ability to impede the pedestrian flow,” she said. “The people whose shingles are on the prototype were more than willing to remove their sandwich sign as long as they had the ability to advertise on the planter.”
She said the committee wants to see six planter boxes placed strategically throughout the downtown area. The boxes would cost $350 each to build and would cost $150 a year to plant. She hopes to see the town pay for the boxes while its Main Street program and contributions from merchants could cover the cost of plantings and maintenance.
Tomaselli said she’s spoken with roughly half the town’s merchants and that they were willing to give up their sandwich signs if they had shingles on planters.
“To me, there’s not a downside to it,” she said.