They sit outside of bars and restaurants all around the city, beckoning patrons from the sidewalk with jokes, drawings, and announcements of daily specials.
But the rules for the ubiquitous sandwich-board signs of Boston are confusing and inequitable, according to Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty. So he is pushing for a review of the city regulations that govern them.
During a City Council meeting Wednesday, Flaherty requested a hearing on ways to make sure that establishments across the city are treated fairly when it comes to the chalkboard A-frames that grace the sidewalks.
“The zoning codes address them differently in different districts,” said Flaherty.
He said the signs are allowed in industrial districts like Eagle Hill, and commercial subdistricts like South Bay Mall and along Morrissey Boulevard, but are forbidden in Hyde Park and Mission Hill without a permit.
“Whatever regulation we put on the books, we want to be sure that they are consistent in all neighborhood districts,” he said. “I’m trying to restore order and create fairness and consistency.”
Several city departments have a voice in the matter, which can make it even harder to navigate.
“It’s somewhat confusing,” he said. “Basically, it’s all over the road, is the best way to describe it.”
Flaherty’s proposal was assigned to the City Council’s Special Committee on Small Business, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation. A hearing on the subject will be scheduled at a later date.
“I think sandwich-board signs are an effective tool to encourage new business and attract pedestrians and highlight specials,” he said. “But if I go out with an 8-by-10 board on my sidewalk, and then you have a little rinky-dink board next to mine, we need absolute rules for that.”
The proposed review comes as the city’s Inspectional Services Department is also taking a look at the signs. Department spokeswoman Lisa Timberlake said officials hope to develop a clearer approval and enforcement policy.
Eleanor Greene, whose family owns restaurants and bars around Boston, including West on Centre, in West Roxbury; and Paramount in South Boston and Beacon Hill, said she hopes the discussions preserve her ability to use the signs creatively.
“It’s an inexpensive way for a restaurant in these tricky economic times to get the word out,” she said. “A sandwich sign can be cute and lighthearted and make people laugh.”