By James Niedzinski
---- — ROCKPORT — Once again, the Bearskin Neck business area and its shops are coming under town fire, with higher fines being discussed for enforcement of a bylaw governing signs and outdoor merchandise displays.
The bylaw is three years old, but the proposed fine increases could devastate shops who keep merchandise or signs outside of their shop, some store owners say.
The current fine rates call for a warning for the first citation, a $25 fine for a second offense, $50 for a third, and $100 for any fourth and subsequent offense.
If passed, the bylaw would require violators to get a warning on the first offense, but with a $100 fine on the second offense, $125 for a third and $150 for any violation afterward. Each day the bylaw is violated would count as a separate offense, as it does now. The town’s Government Bylaw Committee discussed the issue Monday night, but final approval would be up to the full Town Meeting, if the change is placed on the warrant.
Luce Corona, a Gloucester resident who has owned two Artesano’s locations for nearly 15 years, in addition to an I Taco in Rockport, said having visible clothing and items outside makes a big difference for her business.
”We have no opportunity to expose our merchandise,” she said Tuesday. “Small businesses are losing a lot of sales.”
Corona added that her sales drop by about 26 percent when merchandise is forced back inside, she has paid about $75 in fines this year, although she did get a permit to display one item outside of her store.
She said that if the fines are raised as proposed, she would not be able to pay them.
Corona said her merchandise adds culture and color to the Bearskin Neck atmosphere.
”These are not raggy clothes, and many other stores are affected by the same situation,” she said.
If store owners are unable to pay fines — and thus abide by the ordinance and seek permits for single outdoor displays— Selectman Paul Murphy will have gotten his point across.
Murphy has spearheaded the idea to increase fines, saying that the previous rates were “just a slap on the wrist” for owners who could simply snub the town’s ordinance regarding outside displays.
He said preserving the aspects of Rockport and the Bearskin Neck area were his reasons for the tax increase, not because he is anti-business.
“I thought this was high time we make this more of a financial burden for shopkeepers,” he said.
Leslie Asare, owner of Joncien at Bearskin Neck, is in full support of raising the fines for violators. Asare said there are still people who display merchandise outside their store without a permit.
“The issue of whether it’s right or wrong is over,” she said.
Domnick Joseph “D.J.” Tardiff, owner of Bearskin Neck Leathers, said he is conflicted over the issue.
Tardiff said his shop is toward the back of Bearskin Neck, so he mostly stays out of the dispute over the outdoor display issue.
“In some cases it does not improve the look of the Neck,” he said. “But it can be a big seller for store owners.”
In any case, Building Inspector Paul Orlando said there will be increased enforcement by himself or town police officers.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.