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SIGN LANGUAGE Two business owners speak against plans to remove signs downtown

If members of Jonesborough’s Tree and Townscape Board were looking for a sign as to whether they were headed in the right direction when it comes to proposed changes in downtown, they got one last week.
The owners of two local bed and breakfasts spoke against the board’s plans to take down individual signage along Main Street and replace it with six kiosks throughout the downtown area.
The makeover for downtown signage is a part of a larger streetscape plan being considered by the town. A subcommittee of the Tree and Townscape Board has been analyzing the recommendations for signage.
That group came up with a plan that would focus on vehicular signs in downtown that would direct motorists to “destination” places as well as public parking. Such locations would include the Visitors Center and the International Storytelling Center.
Signs such as the ones located on a pole at the corner of Spring and Main streets, as well as those at the corner of Fox and Main streets, would come down under the recommendation. Private, individual businesses would instead be represented on the kiosks.
Marcy Hawley, owner of Hawley House Bed and Breakfast on Woodrow Avenue, argued the sign for her business should be allowed to stay.
Hawley said she and several other businesses in that area, including the former Salt House and the Parson’s Table, fought years ago to get permission to put up the signs because visitors were not being directed off Main Street to their establishments.
“We paid over $1,200 for those signs and we paid to install them,” Hawley said. “I have guests that depend on that signage when they come into town, especially at night. The demographic of the people who come to town are 50 and over. Not everybody uses GPS and not everybody has an ipad that they can look things up on.”
Dona Lewis, owner of Franklin House Bed and Breakfast on Franklin Avenue, wants her sign at the corner of Spring and Main streets to stay, too.
“(Visitors) should have direction to get to a place,” Lewis said. “The signage gives that direction; it’s not that we are advertising.”
Town Administrator Bob Browning called the concerns of both Hawley and Lewis “legitimate,” but said there are other methods of providing such direction.
“To identify individual businesses is not an appropriate use of public sign space,” Browning said. “There’s always going to be differences of opinion when you talk about change. But it isn’t just like it is being taken away and not being replaced.”
Tree and Townscape member Mike Folan expressed concern over eliminating signs for lodging.
“When I go down Main Street and see that the restaurants and businesses are closing, it’s a big concern,” he said. “I think lodging would be something that needs to be identified, more so than parks and some of these other things that might be on our signs,” he continued. “I think there should be some type of variance for lodging.”
The board voted to return the issue to the subcommittee for further discussion in regards to allowing signage for lodging establishments.
Browning noted the signage was only the beginning of a much-needed revamping of how the town draws tourists to local businesses.
“We really do a fairly pitiful job with pedestrian signage,” he said. “We’ve got some serious gaps to fill. We’re not even close to doing what we need to be doing.”