The county is cracking down on signage in the Central Plaza strip mall in Key Largo, and proprietors there say their business is suffering as a result.
Monroe County Code Compliance about a month ago began telling business owners at the mile marker 103 shopping plaza to take down signs hanging from the awning that lines the outside of the store fronts and to remove signs and flags from the grassy area along U.S. 1.
But with the fast-moving traffic, the bushes that separate the parking lot from the road and the businesses' dark windows, owners say they need those signs to attract customers.
"If you're driving, you're not looking," said Andrea Bettencourt, property manager for Central Plaza.
The county's enforcement efforts are being felt.
"Business at my store dropped completely," said Gabriel Mederos, owner of Keys Appliances. "No one is coming in now."
Since Mederos took down a sign hanging from the awning about two weeks ago, he said walk-in business fell by about 40 percent.
"You need a banner here, or at least a flag along U.S. 1," he said.
Ronda Norman, director of the county's Code Compliance Department, said she would have to know more about each individual business to comment on the situation. But she said in general, there can be no signage along U.S. 1 if the area is considered state right of way.
The signs and flags were placed behind power poles that line the highway, which is where Diana Lewis, owner of Tropical Video Games and Technology, said county officials told Central Plaza businesses they could put signs.
"We need banners out there to tell people what it is we do," said Lewis, whose business has operated out of Central Plaza for five years.
It was not clear at press time which part of the area in front of the shopping center is considered right of way, but the Florida Department of Transportation is in the process of reclaiming rights of way throughout the Keys. The decision has significantly impacted several establishments because FDOT is reclaiming portions of properties that businesses have for years used for parking and signs.
As for the signs hanging from the awning, Norman said they require "permitting as they are limited in size, cannot swing, must be placed above a walkway and have to be placed perpendicular to the facade."
Emilio Ruiz, owner of The Juice House, had an A-frame sign along U.S. 1, but he moved it last Sunday after being told to do so by Code Compliance. He said it's too soon to tell if removing the sign impacts his business.
"It's been a slow week, but it'll take at least a month to really know what the effect is," Ruiz said. "I'll know by Labor Day."
He said he agrees there must be some regulation for signs outside businesses and along U.S. 1, but he hopes the county can compromise.
"There can't be 10 different sizes and colors," Ruiz said. "But you have to let us have something."