ELKHART — What appeared to be a simple, widely supported effort to ban stoplight fundraisers in the city of Elkhart turned into a brouhaha over a side issue involving sidewalk sign shakers.
The city is poised to become the latest community to ban the stoplight fundraisers because of safety concerns, but council members objected to efforts by Mayor Dick Moore to include a provision in the ordinance that would also ban businesses from using people on sidewalks promoting businesses with signs.
The promotional tool is popular with some stores that sell gold and pizzas and often features people dancing, singing and sometimes playing air guitar with the help of a cardboard cutout.
The provision caught some council members off guard. Representatives of a few stores and at least one sign shaker who learned of the provision attended Monday’s meeting and spoke against it.
Moore said he believes the sign wavers present a safety concern and that type of promotion “flies in the face of why cities adopt sign ordinances,” that provide “organized and neat” standards for businesses to promote their services.
Moore called the sign wavers “a strange way” to advertise and suggested that he personally believes businesses should use more traditional methods of marketing.
While stoplight fundraisers have been closely regulated in recent years through the city board of works, street sign wavers are not.
Moore noted that sign wavers have become a regular sight at some businesses.
The council heard objections to the ban from several people including Shane Hardesty, whose hypnotic style of bobbing and weaving with a sign for Elkhart Diamonds and Gold has become a recognizable attraction for motorists passing through the intersection of Benham and Lusher avenues.
More than half of the council members said they recognized Hardesty and his signature style.
The father of two said he had a similar job with Little Caesar’s pizza for about two years before joining the gold store three years ago.
“It is close to the cars, but ... I’ve never had any accidents,” Hardesty said.
“I’m raising two kids, paying child support and working. Just like everyone else,” he said.
More than one store owner said the ban could lead to a loss of work for some people.
Dale Wallace, a manager at Little Caesar’s, said the signs are part of the company’s advertising mix.
Wallace said his company’s research has shown that many motorists are often undecided about dinner options on the way home from work and that the signs help pull in sales.
“If you take that away from us, that’s one less person who will work for us,” Wallace said.
Council members debated at length on whether to remove the ban on sign waving from the ordinance or send it to committee for further review. Council president Tonda Hines eventually assigned the ordinance to the council’s safety committee.
Several council members said they thought the two issues should be handled separately.
Councilmen David Henke and Kyle Hannon complained that the provision seemed to be lopped in with an issue that had little to do with each other.
Henke doubted the sign wavers represent much of a safety issue and said jobs are a “real part of the argument.”
Hannon expressed frustration over the idea of sending it to committee and said the council could have saved itself 40 minutes of debate and passed the stoplight fundraiser proposal in “slam dunk” fashion if it had not included the sign provision.
Councilman Rod Roberson, noting that there was no rush to pass the proposal, said he felt a sense of theatrics in the discussion.
Henke said the proposal could have an impact on business.
“It’s not theater,” Henke said. “It’s reality.”
After Monday’s meeting, Hardesty said he felt a little more confident the effort to ban sign waving might be killed.
He appreciated the fact that some council members recognized his work.
“Some people look down on me for it and I understand that, but a lot of people give me credit for it,” Hardesty said.