When Michael Fecteau held onto one of his bucket trucks after retiring from the cabling business 16 years ago, he never imagined that one day he would need it to take down a cheeky roadside sign advertising a made-up gentlemen’s club near a vacant property he’s planning to develop.
“But you never know what’s going to happen,” said Fecteau, a real estate broker and developer in Epping, N.H., a small town about 20 miles west of Portsmouth.
On Sunday night, someone fastened the large sign to a utility pole that abuts seven acres of land. It was an ambitious prank, both in terms of money and effort. And it caused more trouble than even its mastermind could have hoped for, although Fecteau took the joke with good grace.
“I got a kick out of it, I didn’t think anything of it," he said.
After it appeared, Fecteau tried repeatedly to get the fake advertisement down from its hilly perch, with zero success.
The sign, which reads “Coming Soon! Simple Pleasures Gentlemen’s Club” and features the silhouettes of two female dancers in high heels, holding onto poles beside a rendering of a building, caused something of a stir in town this week, with some worried that the community would soon be home to a purveyor of adult entertainment.
Not long after the sun came up Monday, Fecteau started getting calls from police and town officials about the advertisement. There was also chatter on a local Facebook page, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, which first reported on the mysterious purple-and-white sign.
"People thought it was real, of course,” said Gregory C. Dodge, the town’s administrator. “We got few calls from residents who were concerned, and didn’t know how the planning board could approve such a thing.”
Dodge said one woman “went so far as to say, ‘If that sign is true, I’m going to pack up and move out of town.’ ”
“We told her ‘that won’t be necessary, it’s not real,’ ” he said.
Fecteau said he has no plans to bring a gentlemen’s club to the well-traveled intersection of Routes 125 and 27, where his property is located. And if he did, the town would have surely known about it.
“There’s a whole process when you want to build anything, never mind a strip club,” he said.
He said he believes a longtime friend put the sign there as a gag. When Fecteau asked the person who he suspected was behind it, they laughed but offered no confession, he said. Out of loyalty, Fecteau declined to say anything about the friend.
“If you want to figure it out you can,” he said.
Once the air cleared and Fecteau put the minds of residents and elected officials at ease, he turned his attention to taking the sign down and putting the prank behind him.
Although there has been some debate to whether the state or Fecteau is responsible for the piece of land where the pole stands, Fecteau wanted to be a “good neighbor” and help quell the rumors about a risque new business.
That proved easier said than done.
On Tuesday, he tried using a 20-foot-long piece of equipment typically used for moving wires off tree limbs, an apparatus leftover from his days in the communications industry.
“I tried pulling on it, but it flipped around backwards," he said of the sign, which was about 18 feet in the air, on a hill above a ditch.
Even with the sign now facing the empty property, Fecteau was still determined to get it down. This time, Fecteau knew he needed to bring out the big guns.
He returned to the scene that same day with his bucket truck, and pulled as close as he could to the ditch between the road and the pole. Still, no luck, to put it kindly.
“When I tried to reach it, it wouldn’t reach,” he said. “So when I tried to back out I was stuck. I was down too far, and it’s not a four-wheel-drive van.”
In the end, he had to have AAA come and tow his vehicle from the gully, he said. The sign stayed put, almost mocking him.
Then, on Wednesday, he noticed the sign was flipped around again, facing the street.
“It just gets better and better,” Fecteau said with a laugh.
Feeling defeated, Fecteau decided to let Consolidated Communications — the company that owns the utility pole — deal with it. The company was already planning to remove the pole sometime in the coming weeks and transfer the wires to a new pole, he said.
“I’m 63 years old,” he said. “I’m not climbing the telephone pole with a ladder.”
But the mystery deepened Friday after Fecteau drove by his property. Poof! the sign was nowhere to be found.
“A mystery it is!,” Fecteau said in a text message to a Globe reporter.
Fecteau said he was relieved the saga was finally over. But after several phone calls around town, he still couldn’t figure out who got rid of it. It was as strange as when the sign first appeared.
Dodge, the town administrator, didn’t know either. A representative from Consolidated Communications said it wasn’t them.
“When one of our employees went out to the location to prepare to remove the sign, it had already been taken down,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
For all of the drama of the past few days, Fecteau said there’ve been some upsides.
“In this political climate, where everybody is so divided and there’s so much discourse, a little bit of levity is in order," he said. “It’s probably a good thing.”
And then, of course, there’s the sudden, ahem, exposure that his undeveloped property has enjoyed.
“It’s free advertising, I guess,” he said. “And trust me – I had nothing to do with it.”