You Cannot Show What you Sell

pizza place

Recently, a pizza shop in Virginia had to paint over a pizza themed mural at the behest of the city. More on that in a moment.

From time to time, a radio host or local newspaper will do a fun piece about old weird laws. Like how in Montana, it’s still illegal to peel an orange in a hotel room (why was it ever illegal? I have no doubt that things far worse than orange peels have ended up in Montana hotel room waste baskets).

Well, sometimes places have laws that are more than just weird.

Take Arlington, Virginia. Please (sorry!). That city has a law that forbids a business from having any artwork outside that depicts the products or services sold inside. A donut shop can’t have a painting of a donut on its wall. A hardware store can’t have a photograph of a wrench on its awning.

For you see, artwork, like murals, are not considered “signs” in Arlington, they are considered art UNLESS THEY DEPICT ANYTHING RELATED TO WHAT THE BUSINESS DOES. Then, that mural is not a mural, it’s a sign, and subject to the whopping 68 pages of rules and regulations that comprise Arlington’s sign codes.

The city says this is necessary for safety and to prevent distraction of drivers, but this is asinine. The donut shop could paint a lavish, even garish, mural of a wrench, and it wouldn’t run afoul of the code. The hardware store could put up an awning of canvas covered with high-resolution photos of donuts, and that would be cool as well.

So when Goody’s pizza parlor commissioned a mural showing pizza alongside various toppings like mushrooms and olives, the city shut them down until they painted over it.

Now the walls of goody’s are a plain lime green, and the incident may wind up in the Courts.

Some years ago, a doggie day care business in Arlington was forced to remove a mural depicting…..wait for it….DOGS! They sued and lost in Federal Court. But since that case, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that Governments cannot discriminate against signs based on their content. So if the fine folks at Goody’s want to fight the city now, they have an excellent chance of winning.

Bill Handel

Bill Handel

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