Business hasn't been booming this year as unseasonably cool temperatures have affected the number of visitors to Bowen Island. Snug Cove retailers say that, on top of that, the sandwich boards that advertise their shops and services had to be moved.
"[The bylaw officer] came in and said that there had been a complaint that the sandwich boards were in everyone's way," says Connie Wright who owns a little store that is tucked away between the Summer House and Nature Encounters.
She points to a spot right behind the telephone pole and says, "Normally this is where the sign is, because I wanted costumers to see it when they come up the street. Now they won't notice it until they are walking down to the ferry or they are actually going to my place."
The sign is now leaning against a wall, facing the other direction. Wright said, "We've all been fairly conscious of not impeding the way and I think this complaint is kind of petty. It is hard enough doing business on Bowen without making it difficult to let people know about my shop. I do feel that it makes a difference having the sign out."
Wright has been in that location for over a year. She says, "Half of the locals, when they come in, they say, 'I didn't even know there was a store here.' The tourists, they love to explore and they love coming up the stairs but Bowen Islanders, no. The sign is the only aid I have to alert people that I'm back here and now it has to be propped up against the side."
Chris Buchanan, the municipal bylaw services supervisor, said that the municipality acted in response to a couple of complaints. "The Bowen Island Municipality street traffic bylaw prohibits any signage on the road without a permit. Signage out on the sidewalk creates a safety hazard for people walking, or in a wheelchair or people with strollers. It prevents them from going down the sidewalk. The signs need to be placed clear of traffic - they need to be placed on private property."
Buchanan said that the complaints were about only one particular area but bylaw services enforced the rule along the whole stretch of Government Road. He says, "Even though the complaints were about signage up the street, we have to be fair."
Sometimes, the signs don't have to be moved that far. Buchanan says, "[Business owners] can set the signs out on the edge of the property. In some cases, this is a matter of a distance of two feet. People pay rent and property taxes according to where they are located. In some cases, we had signs down by the ferry dock. It is a matter of businesses trying to attract as many customers as possible."
Russ Barker, co-owner of Candy in the Cove, had placed a sign in that area and said it had been effective. "The sign was in that grassy area where people can see it when they come off the ferry. We had a lot of customers that came into the store saying they spotted the sign there. It was behind the telephone pole so there was no obstruction to the sidewalk. But then all the signs were moved."
Barker was aware of the complaints. He said, "I know one person who has been complaining. He walks by often and he has kicked over one of our restaurant signs. I had to confront him one day to tell him to leave the signs alone."
Barker's shop is also out of sight, behind MikSa restaurant. About the sign in front of the building, he said, "What we are trying to do is to find a spot where the sign is visible. If it's behind the planter, then it's of no use. Where it is now, it's probably three or four inches out into the sidewalk. [The bylaw officer] came in and asked me to move the sign and I told him that if one moves the sign, everybody has to move the signs and he ended up moving all the signs. I think it may all be based on that one person's complaints. I am a taxpayer, I own a house on the island and I run a business. I think [the municipality has] to be careful what they are telling homeowners and shopkeepers to do because it just gets so restrictive."
Barker also thinks that businesses along that stretch of Government Road do not want to obstruct pedestrian traffic. "The shopkeepers are all making an effort to ensure that the sidewalk is clear. But our sandwich board is a valuable way to advertise. As long as the sidewalk is unobstructed and people can go by, I don't see the problem."
If the sign cannot be placed on private property, there is always the option of obtaining a permit from the municipality. "If someone wants a permit, they can apply," Buchanan says. "But there are some conditions attached to it."