The closest thing we have in Glynn County to the Las Vegas strip in is the section of Mallery Street through the Pier Village. It is among the most popular tourist destinations in the Golden Isles and is a hub for dining and nightlife on St. Simons Island.
This strip, however, is far from gaudy and flashy. The district has a quaint, small-town feel that attracts people from all over and helps earn St. Simons Island its distinction as one of the top tourist destinations in the Southeast. Signs for its shops and restaurants are understated and tasteful. No one here needs the lights and glitz that makes Las Vegas famous here because, as we do, people like it just the way it is.
But avoiding the flashy lights and in-your-face splashiness can be taken too far. Nearly two dozen business owners learned that last week when Glynn County code enforcement officers told them to remove all neon lights from their storefronts. It turns out a more than 25-year-old ordinance pertaining to the types of lighting and signs allowed in the village prevents a store or restaurant from displaying even a small “open” sign in the window. Some stores, like St. Simons Sweets, had displayed a couple of small neon signs to draw in customers for a decade without complaint.
Someone apparently complained recently, however, which prompted the crack down.
We do not fault the code enforcement officers for doing their jobs, just like we don’t fault Community Development Director Pamela Thompson for reacting to a code complaint according to the book.
The problem here is an ordinance that is too restrictive and, in this case, just plain ridiculous. Limiting the use of neon signs in the village is understandable. No one wants to the district to become a little mini Vegas, with flashing lights everywhere you turn, but let’s face it, the chances of that are slim, regardless of a little-known rule about neon lights.
Hernan Stutzer, owner of Del Sur Artisan Eats, said it well when he spoke to The News last week. He had a small LED-lighted “open” sign in the front window that let folks know his hours. A cow is painted artistically on the wall outside the front door.
“It’s not like we have that cow moving his head back and forth in lights, with the eyes rolling around, like in Vegas. It was just an ‘open’ sign, a way for people to know we’re here,” Stutzer said.
We know there are much more pressing needs on St. Simons Island than whether a few businesses in the Pier Village Overlay District have a neon or LED light in their windows.