Seasonal sidewalk displays gain approval

Lengthy approval process for
merchants created

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

Lengthy approval process for
merchants created
By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

Despite the misgivings of some members, the Red Bank Borough Council voted last week to allow displays of merchandise outside retail stores during the holiday shopping season.

The right to have sidewalk displays, which the council approved only for a limited trial period through Jan. 15, was hard won.

Red Bank RiverCenter Chairman Chris Cole had lobbied the council for months on behalf of merchants for the right to mount displays outside their stores. RiverCenter is the nonprofit corporation that manages the borough’s downtown Special Improvement District (SID).

Council approval came with several provisos, including that design of displays be submitted for approval to RiverCenter’s Visual Improvement Committee (VIC), which will review the design, size and location of the displays.

The agreement negotiated by Cole also provides that the displays — not to include sandwich board signs — be monitored in the same way as sidewalk cafes, with Deputy Fire Marshal Thomas Welsh taking digital photographs of the displays to provide a record of what is approved. Displays that deviate from what is approved would be subject to immediate removal.

To further calm fears that the displays would not encroach on sidewalks or offend sensibilities, Cole stipulated that they would be subject to oversight by the Red Bank police chief and code enforcement official. Cole also volunteered that he will continue to attend council meetings so that council members can relay any complaints they may have.

After discussing sidewalk clearance for pedestrians, council members added a restriction that displays not project more than 24 to 30 inches from a storefront.

Still, council members had reservations, and Red Bank Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. intervened to help move the issue along.

"Would RiverCenter object to giving the council [veto power] if a council person came to us and said that if they don’t like a display, the council should require its removal?" he offered.

"We want to make sure we’re all on the same page," said McKenna. "VIC may sign off on a display, but maybe we won’t like it."

"We only want this to be positive for you and for us," said Cole. "We want to meet all your concerns, but we want to see something positive happen in the downtown."

Councilman Pasquale Menna objected, noting the new policy should extend to businesses outside the district. Cole responded by offering VIC review of display plans by businesses outside the downtown business district managed by RiverCenter.

Menna also argued that the borough has been the target of legal action by an advocacy group for persons with disabilities and the displays could be impediments to this group. He said public notice about the display proposal should have preceded any action by the council.

"They are forgetting they have shop windows for display," added Councilwoman Florence "Betti" Thompson. "I see no reason for displays to be on the sidewalk, particularly when they’re (the sidewalks) so narrow."

"Why is it necessary to crowd sidewalks and make walking dangerous for people with strollers, walkers and those [who are] physically challenged?" Thompson asked. "I think they have to take another look at what they have to work with."

Cole countered, citing the tall nutcracker figures that flank the entrance to downtown boutique CoCo Pari.

"The shop has beautiful windows and the nutcrackers add to the whole atmosphere of the season," he said, adding the display visually enhances the shop windows.

"The displays will be creative and give some feeling of what’s inside the store. That’s what we’re trying to do," he observed.

The trial run for displays was approved by the council, with Menna dissenting and Thompson grudgingly voting for the program.

Winning the right to put out displays of merchandise was a hollow victory for some shop owners.

Last week, several downtown merchants complained that while the council haggled over displays, nothing is being done about the overflowing public receptacles that litter the downtown, and the timeworn building facades in need of a facelift.

While RiverCenter and downtown business owners pressed to have curbside pickup of garbage banned in the downtown, an amended garbage ordinance that took effect Dec. 1 failed to deal with the issue, they said. That ordinance ended virtually all commercial trash collection by the municipality.


To facilitate the approval process for holiday sidewalk displays, which will be permitted through Jan. 15, Red Bank RiverCenter has asked merchants to accompany their applications for review of displays by the Visual Improvement Committee with a picture or drawing of the proposed display, a photo of their building and adjacent buildings, and information on the material, size, color, elevation and location of the display.

RiverCenter has advised merchants to create displays that are compatible with other outdoor elements and colors; are made of painted metal or wood, and are stable and solid; complement the building design that they adjoin; do not block the view of an adjacent store front or neighboring display; are no deeper than 2 feet to maintain the pedestrian walkway; and are located adjacent to the building. Use of sales racks are not permitted, nor are displays at curbside.