HARB: Lit 'Open' Signs Can Stay on Downtown Shops

Historic and Architectural Review Board draws up new guidelines that will allow neon and LED "open" signs to stay in shop windows on Main and Broad streets.


The Bethlehem Historic and Architectural Review Board came up with a new set of guidelines on Wednesday that will allow more than a dozen downtown business owners to keep using their lit “Open” signs -- at least for another year.

Many of the businesses may still need a strategic application of black electrical tape or paint to get in compliance, however.

The new guidelines, which the board unanimously agreed to, regulate the size, color and placement of acceptable signs. They also require that no part of the sign other than the letters in the word “open” be lit.

Most of the signs downtown feature a lit, blue oval-shaped border. Board Chairman Fred Bonsall suggested electrical tape as a remedy. The board intends to review the guidelines -- and possibly change them -- in one year.

While internally lit signs were not necessarily illegal in the historic district, they have rarely, if ever, been approved in the past. Lit signs that blink are illegal citywide.

’s neon window sign, it was noted by board members Wednesday, pre-date the time when HARB began to regulate the use of signs in the downtown.

Fourteen businesses in the Central Historic District came under scrutiny in March after Phil Roeder, a city building inspector and HARB member, noted the proliferation of internally lit, neon or LED “Open” signs that

All signs in the historic district must receive a “certificate of appropriateness,” a permit for the historic district. HARB recommends and City Council approves all certificates.

The first three businesses in the group of 14 were scheduled to appear before the board Wednesday to seek approval for sign use.

But while the first business owner, Carmen LoBaido, owner of , 458 Main St., sat in front of the board, the conversation began to turn toward finding acceptable guidelines to allow businesses to keep some kind of internally lit “Open” sign in the short term.

Board members were convinced by LoBaido’s argument that Main Street visitors often struggle to figure out which businesses are open at any given time without lit signs.

“I see no harm to the streetscape to have small internally lit 'Open' signs,” Roeder said. “This is an important issue to these businesses.”

Dana Grubb May 03, 2012 at 11:36 AM
How are historic districts in other communities handling this issue?
Patriot2 May 03, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Glad that the city is dealing with this proliferation of neon signs which also have included blinking signs at some stores and ATM neon signs at Johnny's Bagels. The city needs to stay on top of this.
Barbara May 03, 2012 at 12:19 PM
I personally do not like them. The neon up signs take away from the feel of a Main St. that prides itself on historic and authentic ambiance. I am surprised they have been allowed to stay. Placing a simple placard in windows that is large enough to read from the street is sufficient.
Sunday May 03, 2012 at 01:58 PM
I am a bit on the fence about this subject. On one hand, I agree that any kind of neon sign used does not blend in with the historic ambiance of the city. On the other hand, I find that a simple lit "Open" sign is extremely helpful when driving by to let us know that the store is open - You don't have to take your eyes off of the road for very long to see it and you won't waste your time trying to find a parking spot only to find that the store is closed by the time you walk up to the entrance door. So, I guess all-in-all, I'm glad they approved it.
Carmen May 03, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Thank you Sunday for acknowledging the fact that it is difficult for someone driving by to see if a store is open without a lit sign. I have this difficulty with my store since the windows have a UV coating and they always appear dark. I would like to thank HARB for their decision in helping the downtown businesses while still maintaining the integrity of our historic downtown. Running a small business in this difficult economy is challenging and something as small as a visible open sign can determine whether a customer crosses the street to patronize a business that from a distance may otherwise appear closed. Carmen LoBaido Arst Diva Boutique


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