To restaurant owners, sandwich boards on the sidewalk are a cheap and easy way to lure customers with specials on crab soup or chicken salad.
To downtown residents, said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, they are "a visual clutter problem."
She intends to introduce to the city council tomorrow a bill to repeal a law that bans the easel-like chalk or white boards, called sidewalks. Rather, she wants business owners to apply to the city for approval and to limit them to one board apiece.
"My intent is not that there would be a sandwich board in front of every daggone building on Main Street," she said. "It would allow for sandwich boards on special occasions. There are times when sandwich boards are important as a means of communication, like an artist's exhibit or a special group performing.
"It wouldn't be for advertising ham and rye today and cheese and tomato tomorrow."
Under the current law, the penalty for having a sandwich board is $100 a day for the first violation and $200 a day for each additional violation.
It is unclear to what extent the current law is being enforced. Michael D. Mallinoff, director of the city office responsible for enforcing the sandwich board law, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Several local businesses that rely on sandwich boards to advertise lunch and drink specials said they were unaware that the boards are outlawed and that they could be fined hundreds of dollars for using them.
"City officials told us sandwich boards were OK as long as they were touching the building," said Stan Fletcher, co-owner of Stan and Joe's at the former home of Sean Donlan's on West Street.
He uses three or four boards to advertise specials and entertainment. Friday's message proclaimed, "Hey you! Yes, you! Come have a cocktail at Stan and Joe's," followed by a lunch menu.
Wes Burge, owner and manager of Reynolds Tavern on Church Circle, said he has been using sandwich boards for four years and didn't know they were illegal.
"My understanding is we can have them up on the porch," he said. "We can't have them on the sidewalk. There's a lot of ordinances in Annapolis to keep our city a unique city. It makes sense to have some perimeters around sandwich boards."
For some, limitations are not enough.
Chance Walgran, a member of the Annapolis Business Association and general manager of Laurance Clothing, complained that the sidewalks are cluttered and that he fears the new law would detract from the historic beauty of the city.
"It does nothing to enhance the area. It's ugly," he said.
Saying she has heard complaints about the boards for years, Moyer said it is time to resolve the issue.
"Rather than us fining people for this, that and the other, there needs to be standards applied," she said. "This [bill] at least puts the issue out there for discussion to consider what makes sense and what doesn't.
The bill would require business owners to submit to the Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs an application to use the boards. The Department of Planning and Zoning would be responsible for reviewing applications to make sure they complied with zoning codes.
The sandwich boards would have to be at least 10 feet from crosswalks, newspaper boxes and other sandwich boards, and would have to be weighted to keep them from flying away on a windy day.
The bill would also require business owners to carry insurance so that the city would not be held liable if customers or pedestrians were injured during a run-in with a sandwich board.