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Illegal Duane Reade Sign Coming Down After Decade-Long Fight

By Amy Zimmer | July 25, 2011 4:18pm

UPPER EAST SIDE — When an old movie theater on East 86th Street near Lexington Avenue was transformed into a Duane Reade nearly a decade ago, the pharmacy kept the marquee and slapped its name in neon on the sign.

Duane Reade's use of the outsized sign violated Department of Building laws, and infuriated residents, who spent years fighting it. Residents have long complained about illegal signage along East 86th Street.

On Monday, locals celebrated a win as workers finally took the sign down.

"This is a significant victory in the battle to clean up illegal commercial signage on East 86th Street," said City Councilman Dan Garodnick in an email.  

"The Duane Reade marquee has been operating illegally for years," he noted. "Removing it shows that we are serious about bringing the entire area into compliance with the law, and leveling the playing field for businesses that do play by the rules."

Duane Reade received a violation for the sign back in 2003. According to the Department of Buildings website, it was illegal to have "signage double faced projecting more than 18 inches across the street."

The remedy, DOB stated, was to "remove illegal work signage."

But no action was taken.

"There's no political will on the part of the city of New York to enforce these regulations," Elaine Walsh, president of the East 86th Street Merchants and Residents Association, said a few months ago. "It's an insult to the community that the city allows major corporations to get away with this."

Garodnick's office asked the DOB to conduct a comprehensive review of all "out-of-compliance" signage on East 86th Street a few years back. His efforts led to another DOB violation for the sign in 2009, staffers said, and his office continued to keep the pressure on.

“Earlier this year, the department ordered Duane Reade to remove the illegal marquee sign above its store at 125 East 86th Street," DOB spokeswoman Ryan FitzGibbon said in an email. "Subsequently, the store filed an application and obtained a permit earlier this month to remove the sign."

The sign's removal comes on the heels of a battle against Duane Reade's video billboard at an Upper West Side store that the pharmacy agreed to remove in May after residents complained it was turning their neighborhood into a mini Times Square.

Duane Reade did not immediately respond to a request for comment.