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Town and A&E Committee working together on signage

(Oct. 5, 2017) A prototype planter box, designed to double as a downtown wayfaring sign, is getting “a lot of positive attention,” Berlin Town Administrator Laura Allen said this week.

The boxes are meant to replace some of the bulky sandwich board signs on Main Street that point visitors to shops not based in the central area. Each box has a pole and a space to hang “shingles” to represent different businesses.

“That’s a pilot that we’re working [on] with the A&E Committee and, in particular, Robin Tomaselli,” she said.

Tomaselli runs Baked Dessert Café on Bay Street.

Economic and Community Development Director Ivy Wells is drafting a proposal that likely would come before the Town Council, Allen said.

“The idea being that the town would be responsible for some portion, like the planter box and maybe the maintenance of it, but the business owners would be responsible for the shingles for their individual businesses,” she said. “It’s kind of an interesting shared-responsibility project.”

Allen said the idea was not to have “50 of them” on Main Street, but rather a few that are strategically placed.

She said Planning Director Dave Engelhart is working on an alteration of town code that would allow each business to have either a sandwich board or a shingle on the planter – but not both.

“Some businesses love their sandwich board signs, so they’re not going to want to change that. This gives them another opportunity,” Allen said. “I don’t think we’re interested in dictating that, but we are interested in minimizing the amount of signage in the area. Having both, I think, is a little too much.”

She said officials are looking into “some kind of charge to the businesses for placing [shingles] on the planter box.”

“The idea being that the town would maintain and own the planter box and be responsible for the foliage and the decorations that go in it, and to help offset that cost there may be some charge for the businesses,” Allen said. “We’re still assessing what that might look like.”

For her part, Tomaselli said a steady and noticeable increase in pedestrian traffic during the last decade or so is the impetus for the planter boxes.

“Mine and other business owners’ ability to steer potential customers to locations off of the Main Street grid is critical to all of our success, and for many years my sandwich board signage, like others, served that purpose,” she said.

She and other members of the A&E Committee “set out to come up with a creative solution to what some refer to as unsafe sidewalk clutter,” she said. One planter box can hold signs for several businesses.

“We have been working closely with Ivy Wells, the Historic District Commission, the Town of Berlin and local artisans to create a solution, which we feel functions as wayfaring signage, public art and overall town beautification,” she said. “Each shingle denoting individual businesses has been created by local artists.”

Tomaselli said the prototype box was designed and constructed by a local artisan, and a local floral designer did the initial plantings.

“This prototype, currently placed at the corners of Main Street and Jefferson, has already freed that area of two bulky signs,” she said. “This project is a perfect example, in my mind, of what is possible when everyone works together for the greater good. I hope the Town Council approves its duplication throughout town, and that other merchants choose to utilize them and their ability to creatively advertise while also insuring safer sidewalks.”