Town of Bluffton leaders hope to strike middle ground between merchants who need to advertise, and an ordinance that restricts signs made of corrugated plastic and "real estate-style" signs on metal stakes.
The town is launching a "directional-sign program," in which sign panels will be erected and maintained at various spots in and near to the Old Town historic district.
Proposed locations include the intersection of Calhoun and Lawrence streets, and the corner of Calhoun and Lawton streets. Other locations will also be considered based on feedback from business owners.
"This program offers a partnership in their success while keeping the historic district safe and aesthetically pleasing," Mayor Lisa Sulka said.
The program was crafted by Town Council and staff after a clash with business owners this past August. That's when the town began enforcing its sign ordinance, collecting more than 150 illegal signs during sweeps in August and September. Twenty-six businesses received violation letters.
The town relaxed its sign rules in 2009 to help merchants through the economic downturn but began enforcing them again this past year.
Town Council members hope the new program is a compromise that businesses will support. Merchants seem split on whether this olive branch is what is needed.
Some businesses say they rely on drive-up, not walkup traffic, and doubt such signs would help because they will be small.
Others are happy the town at least seems to be making an effort to meet them halfway.
"It's a good start, and they did need to start somewhere," said Doug Ellison, owner of Parrot Cove Ice Cream Cafe. "It will help businesses who have a lot of walk-up traffic, but it's not going to work for everyone."
Ellison thinks his sandwich board, which the town allows Ellison and other merchants to place in front of their stores and certain off-premises locations, will work better because they're bigger and more easily seen by drivers whizzing by.
Ellison hopes the town eventually will consider more advertising options for other parts of the town.
"Bluffton is no longer one square mile," he said. "People need to be awarded the opportunity to see all that Bluffton has to offer, not just Calhoun Street."
Tom Lewis, owner of Old Town Vintage Posters, is reserving judgment.
He said the town put up temporary signs for him along Calhoun Street after they cracked down on signage over the summer.
"(The temporary signs) had a very insignificant impact," Lewis said. "So I don't have high hopes for the new signs."