Merchants seek loopholes in merchandise law |

Merchants seek loopholes in merchandise law

Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE – Holly Robb has found her loophole.

The owner of Holly’s Pizzazz on Ski Hill Road has tried for years to get the town to allow her to display her oversized mermaid on a bench outside her store. And for years town code enforcement officers have told her to take it back inside.

Town ordinances don’t allow merchants to display merchandise outdoors or use attention-getting devices to lure customers to their stores. The ordinances were implemented in the late 1980s and early 1990s to address an increasing volume of merchandise – T-shirts, boxes of sale items and racks of clothing – merchants placed on sidewalks and hung from balconies. The end result, residents agreed, was that town was beginning to look trashy. And that wasn’t good for the bottom line.

Now, the bottom line isn’t looking so great – sales-tax revenues in April were down for the 15th consecutive month – and merchants want to do something to reanimate town.

They asked town council members Tuesday to consider relaxing the laws on outdoor displays of merchandise. They want to do so tastefully, they said. They don’t want to see T-shirts flapping in the breeze, racks of clothes or cheap sale items on public property any more than do town officials.

But many felt they didn’t get a warm reception at a council meeting Tuesday night. And Robb, for one, has had enough.

Earlier this week, she removed the clothing from her mannequin and placed three artificial flowers in strategic locations on the dummy.

“I’m playing by all the rules, so she’s not wearing anything I sell,” Robb said. “She is naked, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s no longer a mannequin. She’s a sculpture.”

She’s not sure the town will view it that way, so she removed the mannequin from its perch Wednesday and painted its body in bright colors. Now, Robb says, the mannequin is art.

“There’s no mistaking she’s not a mannequin – she has no clothing on,” she said. “She totally fits into the sculpture category.”

On Friday, she applied for a permit to display the mannequin-sculpture.

“I’m going to play it by the book,” she said. “But I’m done playing their games. After Tuesday night, it’s time for the merchants to get together and convey to the council what we’re truly doing.”

Steven Lapinsohn, owner of Main Street Outlet, and Doug Miner, owner of Canary in a Clothes Mine, support her efforts. Lapinsohn, who was publicly chastised for a live remote-radio broadcast he hosted at his store last winter, said he just wants to be allowed to do what other merchants can.

“Look at Main Street Station,” he said. “They do shows, they display stuff – why are they able to do it and I’m not? I like to see it; I think they have every right, but so should we. My windows are 60 feet from Main Street. Displays are difficult. I have to do something to let people know I’m here. I think the town’s going overboard with their fear of what they think will happen. Give us more tools, is all I’m asking for.”

Like Robb, he has plans to get his point across, although he declined to say what they are.

Town Manager Tim Gagen understands their plight – to a degree.

“We’ve been encouraging people to bring us ideas,” he said. “I think the idea of trying to draw people to the front door in a classy way is something everyone would like to do. But the devil’s in the details. What level of risk do you take to enliven business? Staff doesn’t have a magical solution on this one.”

Town officials also said they believe better merchandising and advertising would be more effective than outdoor displays of goods.

“If a mannequin is all that’s keeping you in business, you’ve got a bigger problem,” Gagen said. “Some of these ideas may be helpful, but it comes down to what you’re doing and who you’re marketing to.”

Robb knows exactly who her market is. A sign she posted near the mannequin Friday reads, “Hi there! Excuse my lack of attire. According to the town of Breckenridge, I cannot be out here as a mannequin with clothing as that would be merchandise. If I am a statue or sculpture and naked, it’s OK. Now that you have noticed me, come on in and see all the awesome stuff we have inside. Thanks, Matilda, formerly a mannequin, now a sculpture.”

“She fits all the guidelines by the town code,” Robb said. “They don’t have to like her; I’m kind of sick of chainsaw-carved bears. But that’s why I chose to change her – I need something out there. A lot of retailers are hanging on by their fingernails and we need a little help. But we have a long way to go.”

The town council plans to discuss merchant issues again at its next work session July 9.

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