What’s your Sign?

Imagine you’re a small-business owner. You’ve got a great new location and you can’t wait to tell everyone about what you bring the community.

A key piece to getting the word out may be a sign near your business storefront that spells out what your company is all about.

Diane Krantz is the manager of Everybody Reads, 2019 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing.

Though the store posts on social media and puts notices in a local newspaper, its signs, which include one that perpendicularly juts out from the top of the building bearing the business name, gives pedestrians a reason to pop inside, she said.

“We still have a lot of people coming in all the time and they are like, ‘I didn’t know you were here,’” said Krantz. “They just happened to be on the block, and you know then the sign is what’s bringing them in.”

Kranz noted that as more revitalization takes place near her store, tangible signs, which let people know books and comics await them, may create more store traffic. “There’s a lot going on, on this block and parking is at a premium often,” she said. “So, people are walking around after they parked and maybe have a little time to kill. So, just a basic sign brings them in at that point.“

But when it comes to signage, business owners need to be careful not to violate their city’s zoning code lest they face potential trouble, including fines.

Brian McGrain, the director of economic development and planning for the city of Lansing, said it’s important to let your city know what kind of sign you are planning to put up to avoid potential zoning issues.

“Anything at all. If you think there might be some city interaction, the best thing to do is give our office a call right off the bat,” he said.

McGrain said the city’s role in enforcing the zoning code isn’t to be punitive but rather to ensure what happens on one property isn’t infringing on the rights of others.

“We are very cautious to sort of walk that path of allowing people to advertise but also make sure we are not detracting from property values,” he said.

Code enforcement also protects the look of an area, McGrain added.

“You have too many signs, and they aren’t doing anybody any good,” he said “You can look back at pictures of commercial stretches from the ’70s and you know they are just out of control with signage.”

East Lansing’s Planning and Zoning Administrator David Haywood said a business’ sign could play a vital role in its success. This, he said, may be especially true when advertising budgets are limited.

“It’s very important,” he said. “It can make or break a business.”

For its part, East Lansing has adopted a flexible commercial sign code as compared to other areas, Haywood said

“Some sign codes for example, commercial properties, they only allow one sign, like one wall sign. Where ours, you have an allotment of sign area,” Haywood said.

East Lansing also makes an effort to give businesses extra leeway when construction projects may deter customers, according to Haywood.

“If we have a street that is closed or partially closed and there are fencing barricades, we’ll al-low additional signage,” he said.

In the vein of working with business owners, Haywood said the city’s zoning code includes a handful of amendments taken directly from public opinion.

“The success of the business is the success of our city, and we want to try to support that,” he said.

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