San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

March 2nd, 2008
Signs of what times?

COMMENTARY
By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

BUDA – The issue of commercial signage in downtown Buda comes down, perhaps, to a difference of opinion between merchants who want more presence and others in the city who want quieter signage in the interest of historical consistency.

As most people living in Buda by now have no idea if the historical feel pressed by minimal city sign allowances actually ever existed in town, it’s a question worth asking.

So, the question went to T.J. Higginbotham, who holds an interesting position in the debate as the chairman of Buda’s historic commission and good friend of at least two Main Street proprietors, Richard Skanse of Constantine’s Pizzeria and Linda Raby of Raby’s Roots. Presumably, Higginbotham is sympathetic to historical continuity and Main Street businesses.

And the answer he gave was quite eloquent. He simply asked his friend, Horace Fletcher, to produce a copy of a special edition put out by The Free Press to commemorate the city’s 125th anniversary in 2006. The edition contains numerous photographs of Main Street throughout Buda’s history. And the message is clear, though not surprising to anyone who remembers the old days or has looked at old photographs of prominent cities.

Those stores in the old days had signs, big signs, sometimes 25 percent of the store frontage. You could probably read H.L. Birdwell and Son General Merchandise from 200 yards away. The signs were large, but not garish. The signs weren’t raised high above the business buildings, but signs went up high on business buildings and created the impression of something happening.

City officials and Main Street merchants presently are trying to work up recommendations for a new sign ordinance that would give businesses more exposure. Right now, the city allows ten percent of building frontage for signage. Business owners want more. Inevitably, the debate will come down to how much visual noise some people will accept downtown.

But those who argue that the present low level of noise is consistent with Buda’s historic character simply aren’t being truthful. To say Main Street is an historic district and not a commercial district is a flat contradiction because Main Street’s history is that of a commercial district.

From viewing photographs of Main Street’s history, signage on Main Street didn’t diminish until business diminished. Main Street was never prosperous strip of quaint storefronts, where proprietors hung little shingles on their doors, contrary to the fantasies of those who want Buda to look like Westlake Hills. Main Street has either had prosperous businesses with large signs, or struggling businesses with small signs, or empty storefronts with no signs.

Buda can considerably increase the signage allowed for Main Street businesses without going Las Vegas. Increased exposure for Main Street businesses and economic development can go hand-in-hand with historic continuity. But only if the players are honest about Main Street’s history.

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