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City Wants $540 From Wicker Shop Owner For Illegal 'Sandwich Board' Sign

By Alisa Hauser | January 16, 2017 9:27am | Updated on January 16, 2017 12:19pm
 Adam Rosen with his record store's sandwich board sign. Rosen got a ticket
Adam Rosen with his record store's sandwich board sign. Rosen got a ticket
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WICKER PARK — In October, the owner of Shuga Records was slapped with a $100 ticket for putting a sandwich board sign on the sidewalk — a violation of a little known city ordinance.  

Even worse is that the Wicker Park record shop's owner Adam Rosen says he was not aware of the ticket until last week — and now the city says he owes $540.

Rosen, who bought an A-frame sandwich board sign for about $40 on Amazon Prime last year, pays artists to draw quirky things on the sign like, "It's cold outside, come inside "or "Come warm up with some Shuga."

In October when Rosen got the ticket, he said the sign featured a drawing of Pepe the frog, a popular Internet meme, holding a record. The sign was a positive depiction of the "sad frog" that had been embraced by white supremacist groups — sparking an Anti-Defamation campaign to encourage others to embrace Pepe as "a force for good."

Though the violation occurred on the sidewalk in front of Shuga Records, 1272 N. Milwaukee Ave., the ticket notifying Rosen was mailed to a warehouse that Rosen says he uses only for storage and does not visit often.

State records show the warehouse at 4115 W. Ogden Ave. is registered as the address for Rosen's Shuga Records corporation and not the Wicker Park storefront where the record shop has been located since winter of 2015.

Rosen became aware of the ticket last week when he went to the warehouse to drop off holiday decorations and he discovered both the ticket and a collection notice in a stack of mail, he said.

City ordinance 10-28-064 prohibits advertising signs on the public way. Rosen's ticket, issued at 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 18, says he "placed [an] advertising sign on sidewalk without permit. "

The city's streets, sidewalks and parkways are considered to be the public way and the city is effectively the landlord of those spaces. As such, anything on the public way, such as a sidewalk cafe or bench, requires a permit, according to a city-produced guide for small business owners that warns sandwich boards are illegal.

If not paid in seven days, the fine for putting a sign on the public way without a permit goes from $100 to $500, plus administrative fees, according to the collection notice Rosen received.

"If the city would have just done it right and send the ticket to the proper address I wouldn't be wasting my time, my lawyer friends' time and the taxpayers' money," Shuga said.

Rosen, who says he has a hearing this week at the city's Central Hearing Facility, 400 West Superior St., told DNAinfo he went Downtown last Thursday to try to get the ticket reduced from $540 to the initial $100, which he says he'd be more than happy to pay. But he was unsuccessful.

"Because it has been over 45 days since the ticket was issued, they told me I need to go to court," Rosen said. The court hearing also means that Rosen will have to hire a lawyer, in accordance with a 2014 Illinois law requiring all corporations to have legal representation.

Angel Hawthorne, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which issues permits for signs and other structures on the public way, said last week she was unable to comment on Rosen's case.

Hawthorne was unable to provide information on how often business owners are ticketed for sandwich board signs.

The city's Department of Transportation began cracking down on illegal sandwich boards in 2011, with Ald. John Arena (45th)'s office telling small business owners in a September mass email that they "are considered unsafe for pedestrians and present untenable liability for the city."

Real estate agents, "especially in the Lincoln Park zip codes," are advised to avoid putting signs on the public way, accord to an online warning from the Chicago Association of Realtors.

Rosen acknowledged he" took the risk" of not having a permit for a sandwich board sign.

And while no such permit exists for a sandwich board sign, hundreds of business owners use the signs to promote their retail shops, sales and promotions.

Rosen said that as soon as he saw the ticket, he put the sandwich board sign indoors.

"It is hard enough running a small business and I work 75 plus hours a week at the shop," Rosen said.