Today in Charleston, the city's Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to consider zoning variance requests made by three long-established businesses.
Two of those businesses, the Firestone Complete Auto Care on Washington and Dickinson streets downtown and locally owned Fountain Hobby Center in the Elk City District on the West Side, want to remove their old, historic and unique signs, repair and repaint them, and reinstall the signs in the same place.
The third business, Budget Tapes and Records, asks to install a new but similar sign to replace its 41-year-old iconic storefront billboard on MacCorkle Avenue in Kanawha City.
Those signs were installed before current Charleston zoning regulations were adopted and, as such, are not allowed to be reinstalled without a zoning variance.
Old and unique signs, like the businesses they represent, add to the city's charm.
Visit practically any modern shopping center in the United States today, and they look almost the same. For years, shopping complex planners have standardized the design and installed giant centers on the outskirts of cities, with mega-parking lots and often the same chain stores that can be found anywhere.
While these complexes provide convenient and economical shopping experiences - otherwise they wouldn't be so prevalent - they typically lack any local character.
Traditional shopping districts populated with local businesses, like downtown and Elk City, provide a unique charm that helps make Charleston special. City leaders and concerned groups are taking many positive steps in preserving and enhancing the areas. Imagine Charleston, a creative visioning and planning process that seeks input from citizens, is one such initiative.
The businesses' icons are worthy of the variance.
"We are one of the last local businesses left in the area," Priscilla Pope, co-owner of Budget Tapes & Records told Gazette reporter Jim Balow. "[The sign's] been around for years. It's historical."
Long established and locally owned businesses are important to the community.
Here's to the hope that the zoning commission grants the variances as requested and helps to preserve the historic charm that these businesses, and their signs, provide to the city.