March 20, 2013 - Independent automotive company owners on Watson Road took offense to a Crestwood alderman recently comparing their street to South Kingshighway.
Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel made the comment at a recent city Sign Commission meeting. Miguel told the Call he was relaying "comments that had been conveyed to me by other people."
Larry Sturm, owner/operator of A to Z Auto Center, 9044 Watson Road, said Miguel pointed out that there are "too many automotive repair shops."
"He wants to clean up the act and make sure that I'm not seen …," Sturm said. "I need to have additional signage so people can see my business. Why this alderman decided to show up to the (Sign Commission) meeting and make a special show to say that I had too much signage or bully the committee into saying they should not allow me to have my signage, I don't understand that."
Sturm said when he first opened his business, he had to move his sign 30 feet back from the street. He also said foliage in front of the building hides his business and remodeling that was completed over the past two years cost $8,000 to $10,000 more than planned.
"I would be glad to discuss any of these experiences with any committee or any of you," Sturm told the Board of Aldermen last week. "But my one primary concern with Crestwood is the ability for one alderman to create his own separate agenda to personally attack my industry and bully Crestwood employees (and) committee members."
Jay Wiseman, owner/operator of Ernie Patti Auto Leasing & Sales, 9070 Watson Road, said he wants to keep his business in Crestwood, but acknowledged he was "seriously considering moving from Crestwood."
"We're not asking for harassment. We're not asking for outlandish statements," Wiseman said. "I'm an independent business man. I'm very, very lucky to do that … and all we (independent business owners) want to do is make a living, live in our city, some of us, work in your city, most of us, and just have the American dream. That's what we want. But we can't have it with our hands held and we can't have it with statements like that ..."
In response to the comments at the March 12 board meeting, Miguel told the Call the business owners "expressed their opinion and they're certainly entitled to that."
"They expressed their side of the story," Miguel said.
Sturm, who suggested the city create a welcoming committee for new and existing businesses, also said he is concerned he "cannot compete with one arm tied."
"At times, that's how I feel," Sturm said. "As a sole, independent business, I have found it hard to comply with many of your cookie-cutter rules for large franchise(s) …"
Mayor Jeff Schlink said though Sturm's idea is "good conceptually," he would not want businesses to ask for the city for assistance or support it cannot provide.
"I think that we don't want to put a committee together just for the sake of putting a welcoming committee together," he said, "but maybe you can come up with some ideas as to what some of those services are or how we could streamline things and maybe we could partnership together to improve the process and to help ensure that folks feel as if they're getting a fair shake."
Wiseman said small businesses are the "linchpin" of Crestwood's community.
"There's a lot of us that don't feel that you're very business friendly, myself especially," Wiseman said. "If a small business can't get the support and the backing from your mayor and your board, how do you expect someone to come into [Crestwood Court]? How are you going to welcome someone when you're not welcoming us?"
Wiseman said at one point he put cars on green space between his business and Watson Road and was told not to do that, though he duplicated the act because he sold cars the first time he put them on the green space.
"What I didn't like was the series of events that happened with that," Wiseman said. "The phone calls, the harassment …"
Schlink said the city's code enforcement officers are "asked to enforce the code that we have," even if the timing and frequency "might not ever be perfect for somebody."
"You mentioned kind of harassment, being picked on, things of that nature, and I certainly respect that," he said. "But it's really — they're doing their job. So maybe we need to step back and take a different approach to it because you're not asking them to not do their job … We just need to take maybe a closer look at what we're asking you to do and the rules we're asking you to follow."