Chicago

Chicago to Businesses: Did Licensed Contractors Hang Those Window Signs?

Classic protection racket enforced by city fines.

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Courtesy of Scott Toth

Want to put a sign—or even just a sticker—on the window of your Chicago pizzeria? Better get a licensed contractor and a zoning review first, or else expect to pay fines ranging in the thousands of dollars.

Scott Toth, owner of Craft Pizza in the city's Wicker Park neighborhood, learned about this regulation last year when his business was ticketed. He had four vinyl stickers in his business windows, which he put up in 2014 and 2015.

In order to follow the city's rules, any window signs must be installed by a licensed sign contractor (a list of these contractors is conveniently located on the city's website)—even if the sign is just a sticker. Toth tells Reason that this is the classic "Chicago way" in which regulations "force you to use union stuff."

According to Toth, the city's rules regarding signs are rarely enforced, and he only knows of a couple other businesses in his neighborhood that were targeted.

The city's on-premise sign guidelines apply to window signs made of paper, sticker material, vinyl or film that take up more than 25 percent of a window and are in place for more than 60 days. The rules also apply to signs painted on more than 25 percent of a window. These signs are technically required to go through an expensive permitting process in addition to hiring contractors for installation.

For a permit, a business must pay a zoning review fee of $200 and a building department review fee based on the size of the sign. Building department review fees range from $50 for signs between zero and 49 square feet up to $1,000 for a sign over 500 square feet.

Fines for noncompliance range from $350 to $15,000 per sign per day. It is unknown how the city determines the fine amount. The Department of Buildings, which enforces this regulation, did not respond to requests for comment from Reason.

Toth says he was not allowed to represent himself and was forced to hire an attorney to fight the fine. After paying his attorney approximately $1,000, the fine was reduced from $1,000 to around $600 and he agreed to pay. "At some point you've just got to cry uncle," Toth says.

Another restaurant, Dove's Luncheonette, received two violations on two window signs that date back to 2014. According to DNAinfo, the restaurant was able to get the fines waived by applying for permits.

Wicker Dry Cleaners, located next to Craft Pizza, claims that unpermitted signs had been up for 14 years without issue. The painted signs, which read "wedding dress cleaning" and "leather repair," have since been taken down after inspectors threatened the business with a $1,000-per-day fine.

Mimi Simon, a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings justified the regulation in a statement:

"[S]igns under 50 square feet in a single window have a minimal zoning review fee of $50, and if a business is found to be noncompliant, fines are typically not issued if the business can prove compliance with the Chicago Building Code at an Administrative Hearing. … The goal of the Department of Buildings is to work with business owners to bring them into compliance"

But this was not Toth's experience.

"It's such an arcane rule. And it's not like you can look it up somewhere," Toth tells Reason. "I've gone downtown and there is no sign division of the city, it's the building department. And there is not a person you can go to and say 'okay can you sit down and tell me exactly what I need to do or not to'… The general attitude is go hire a sign guy and he'll tell you what you've got to do."

As reported in DNAinfo, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno wants to see a more business-friendly regulation: "the city is punishing small businesses and needs to back off." He is working on an ordinance that would allow window signs "for a nominal fee."

For now, Toth has given up on hanging signs in his business's windows. Since Craft Pizza is located in a more residential area, he is concerned that, thanks to the city, his business will just look like an office building.

Above was an image of the windows before the city stepped in. Below is the current storefront:

Courtesy of Scott Toth

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  1. “At some point you’ve just got to cry uncle,” Toth says.

    That’s the city’s entire foundation.

    1. And official motto, if I’m not mistaken.

      1. And yet Chicago is whining like a stuck pig because the federal government wants to no longer give them money because they want to ignore federal law regarding immigration.

        Stuff it, Chicago. The criminals run the government there.

  2. And they call this the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    In the name of honesty in advertising, we need to change it to “The land of the fee and the home of the slaves”.

  3. Business near me was fined for having an inside sign bigger than 25% of the window size. I believe the charge was violating community standards. Why that matters for in-store signs, i could never comprehend.

  4. Chi town needs lots of money. So expect a crackdown on everything.

    1. Chi town needs lots of money. So expect a crackdown on everything.

      The really mind-blowing part is that this shit was already illegal before Chi town really needed the money. Arbitrary $15,000 per sign per day fines and the City is *still* in debt to pretty much anyone who would loan them two nickels to rub together.

  5. When you are so morally bankrupt that people can’t put a sticker on their own fucking window without you being a petty tyrant, and when you are so financially bankrupt you need to charge people permits to put up OPEN signs.

    I wish these little fucking fascists did this to personal property too, not just businesses. You will no longer be able to change your own light bulb.

    The only way out for these lunatics is through!

  6. I can’t figure out why Chicago is losing population every year.

    1. It’s the shootings, stupid

    2. Because fungi reproduce by sporulation.

  7. Ok here’s a question. Are those two windows or twelve?

    1. From an architectural standpoint it would be two window assemblies.

    2. It depends on which glazier you ask. But now that you put it that way, most glaziers would call that two windows, and he could put all that stuff into one of those two windows and still be in compliance with the regulation.

      1. From a regulatory angle, they would definitely count as two. The mullions are merely decorative, from a compliance point-of-view.

      2. What matters is which interpretation would generate the most revenue for the city.

    3. You have to file a permit that costs $200 to get the answer.

      The answer will apply for only one day. If you would like an answer that applies for 365 days, the permit cost for that is $2,500.

      Which is a savings of over $70,000. Joe Moreno fights for small business!

  8. A solution is at hand!

    Since “free speech politically” seems to be on SUCH a much-higher pedestal than “free speech economically” is, then, for example, put up a sign that says…

    “Vote for the Libertarian Party, who, unlike the local hacks and thugs, would allow me to tell you that I have…
    PIZZA for sale HERE!!! But I am not telling you that, since it is outlawed by the local thugs.”

    1. That would involve finding a libertarian in Chicago.

    2. It’d be a real shame if something were to happen to those windows.

    3. Good answer! Or write, “Mexican rain-god, Tlaloc says you must try our Peperoni and be blessed”…..

    4. I think that would constitute a campaign donation to the Libertarian Party and would thus be subject to campaign finance laws.

  9. Too bad you can’t bring complaints in front of a jury of your peers…

    1. You’d probably get your competitors. They are your peers, right?

  10. You know who else had signs bigger than 25% of their window size?

    1. Dolly Parton?

    2. +1 Kristallnacht

  11. I’ll give you guys this, working with local governments on crap like this or pretty much anything makes you think they have a secret mission to deliberately piss you off. I’m getting two water bills and then a refund for one every month. Why? Who the fuck can say? I think it has something to do with the fact that they have two websites and two different names for automatic withdrawal.

  12. Doesn’t appear to me that the lettering takes up more than 25% of the window space, but pretty expensive to argue that with city hall.

  13. Kudos to Allie Howell. Just an intern, yet already sharp enough to troll the Chicago pizza haters with that pic.

  14. Mimi Simon, a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings justified the regulation

    She made no attempt to justify the regulation. She was only justifying their right to enforce the regulation.

    I’m not sure it’s even possible to justify the regulation. 25%? Why not 100%? Is there really a public safety issue if a business owner chooses not to allow the local police/politicians/generally nosey motherfuckers to look inside? The bullshit “prevent hiding criminal activity” reason is so fucking flimsy (you know…walls and doors such) that only a complete government sycophant could justify the regulation.

    1. or how about mirrored window film for heat, solid film for privacy? Those would be 100% but they sure as hell aren’t signs.

    2. Especially since you can get around the “prevent hiding criminal activity” by putting up curtains, or even just putting *blank* paper or vinyl over the windows.

    3. She made no attempt to justify the regulation. She was only justifying their right to enforce the regulation.

      ^This +1000

  15. Toth’s “Craft Pizza” sign took up less than 25% of the window it was on (assuming my screen capture measurements are correct), and so did the “b.y.o.b.” sign.

    The stickers in the other window *might* be in compliance with the regulations (I’m too lazy to sit down in Photoshop and calculate what percentage of the letters are ‘sign’ that covers the window, and what percentage is uncovered window). But even the words on that window do cover up more than 25% of the window, he can put the same things up if he puts each of the four blocks of text (“Boil & Bake Bagels”, “Homemade Pastries”, “Sparrow Coffee”, and “NY Slices 11 am – 4 pm”) in its own window.

    1. It’s worded poorly in the article, suggesting that signs taking up >25% of the window AND are in place for >60 days require a permit. You would think that the converse is true, that if a sign doesn’t satisfy *both* criteria don’t require signs.

      But check out the link: Here

      Basically the permit is required for ANY sign that’s >60 days, regardless of size.

      If the sign is going to be up 25% of the window.

      The *exception* to the permit is

      1. Screwed up formatting trying to add link. Sorry… Final sentence should say that the *exception* is only valid if it’s 25%, it requires a permit.

      2. Except if the sign is *painted* on the window. I’m guessing the alderman who included that provision had a cousin who was a window sign painter. Because there’s certainly such a *substantial* difference between paint and vinyl film or sticker material.

      3. But does taking them down for one day every 60 satisfy the law?

    2. Sorry, keep screwing up formatting with greater-than and less-than signs being interpreted as HTML… I’m just going to stop.

      tl;dr — A permit was required in this case because signs were up more than 60 days, regardless of size.

    3. The solution, to me, is to put the “Boil and Bake”, etc. signs on transparent plastic sheets and hang them from the ceiling an inch behind the window itself. As the signs are not applied to the window and are do not identify the business or contain its logo, they become incidental signs and should then be exempt.

      1. You actually think there are no regulations on signage inside a building?

        How naiive can you get??!!

      2. How about simply projecting the signage?

  16. Toth tells Reason that this is the classic “Chicago way” in which regulations “force you to use union stuff.”

    I haven’t checked my Chicago Manual of Style, but I’m pretty sure you don’t have to use quotes in this instance. It’s factually the Chicago way; use union stuff. The implied “or else” should be quoted.

    1. Speaking of petty tyrants…

  17. I used to represent my former company at trade shows, including helping to set up our booth and make sure any demo product was working.

    Pretty much every trade show was easy except anything in Chicago at McCormick Place. You see, unless you have a union card, you can’t use “power tools”. Including a battery-powered electric screwdriver. Hell, I got sideways glances when I tried to use a hand screwdriver or Allen wrench. Now, our booth was designed to be EASY to assemble

    Booth setup & tear-down routinely took about twice as long at McCormick Place as any other booth. And the union workers billed at $100/hour made it FAR more expensive than any other location as well…

    1. Don’t forget you probably had to bribe the drayage workers – I know that was fairly standard practice for me in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Otherwise my booth would be the last to come out from the loading dock.

      1. Someone has to be last.

      2. I’m gonna plead the 5th on that one…

  18. Joe Moreno is a lying sack of shit. Dollars to doughnuts Craft Pizza didn’t give Moreno a campaign donation and he is the one who alerted the Building Department. Then he can go lie to Reason and Craft Pizza and tell them “See? I fight for small business!” Implying that Craft Pizza should give him a couple hundred bucks next election unless his union buddies get some work.

    THAT is the Chicago Way..

  19. …and one of the many reasons their is an exodus of people from the socialist dystopia known as Chicago. Can’t wait to see the net loss of citizens in 2017. It lost 19,750 and was the only city in the top 10 to drop in population. Add on top of the already crazy stuff (like this article) the 33% increase in income tax, the outrageous tax increase on businesses, the 8.75% sales tax, the tax on sugary drinks, the $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, 400+ murders through July, awful public school systems….why would any business want to set up shop here???

    1. 8.75%?

      What decade are you living in, Gramps? It’s 11.5%

    2. why would any business want to set up shop here???

      The media tells me millenials want to live in an urban environment filled with diversity.

      I live in Chicago in the mid 90’s and am amazed at how much development has occurred and yet the city is still in a financial crisis.

      I predict that after the millenials start having their ‘diverse’ taxes perpetually increased, they will flee back to the suburbs like their parents and grand parents did a generation ago.

  20. Every two-bit suburb has similar laws/rackets.

    An acquaintance bought a defunct bar, remodeled it, and opened it under a new name. The sign structure on the outside he kept in place, he just replaced the sign within the sign structure to reflect the new name. The town revoked the business license until the lettering on the sign was reduced by one inch. The law applied only to taverns.

    Apparently the previous owner of the bar told the town to go fuck themselves over the law which is why the bar was originally closed. It’s more important that your union buddies get paid than it is for the town to have revenue to pays its employees because they will just borrow the money and then move out of state when it comes time to collect one’s pension.

    Acquaintance then sold the bar to someone else. And the local government thugs hassled the new owner with new, inane rules. It’s closed now. Must be too close to a union-controlled bar.

    I’d never move to Florida as the entire state is filled with “retired” union racketeers from New York and Chicago.

  21. 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno wants to see a more business-friendly regulation: “the city is punishing small businesses and needs to back off.” He is working on an ordinance that would allow window signs “for a nominal fee.”

    If Joey ain’t got an Uncle Vito who knows how to make problems disappear “for a nominal fee”, I’m sure somebody’s got an Uncle Vito who’ll make problems like Joey Moreno disappear for only slightly more than a nominal fee and probably cheaper than a lawyer.

    This shit reminds me of the guy some years back who was hassled by the city beyond endurance until he snapped and went down to city hall with a rifle – all the papers said he was a crazy guy who just started killing people “for no apparent reason”. You gotta be pretty damn ate up with it to not see something that readily apparent.

  22. “It is unknown how the city determines the fine amount.”

    On even numbered days, it is done by rolling two dice, and multiplying the result by $1,000.
    On odd numbered days, it is done by an astrology chart.
    On all other days, it is a flat $15,000.00 fine, plus a $500.00 charge for the impossibility.

  23. I would put a projector up inside on the ceiling that projects onto the window. No sign, just light.

    1. Hang something from the ceiling without the proper permit are you INSANE!

  24. This sort of government meddling is a growing phenom all across the country. The pigs in politics think they are untouchable. Some day, as economic pressure builds, public anger will overflow and the pols day of reckoning will come.

  25. The government is just the mafia pretending it’s not the mafia

    Sometimes the mask slips though

  26. gotta keep the public safe. what happens if somebody is walking down the street texting/sexting their Xefriend and suddenly looks up to see an un-permitted sign.

    They could twist an ankle.

    Then Rahm would have a sad and his four foot frame would shaking with fury that all these “citizens” didn’t check with him.

  27. Nice restaurant you have there…..would be a crying shame if something happened to it…..

  28. So put the signs freestanding “in” the window rather than affixed to it.

  29. “Toth says he was not allowed to represent himself and was forced to hire an attorney to fight the fine.”

    Presuming his business is owned under an entity (e.g., an LLC), the entity must be represented by counsel before tribunals and generally the “owner” can’t show up and try to pro se on behalf of the entity. This is pretty standard across jurisdictions.

  30. “Wicker Dry Cleaners, located next to Craft Pizza, claims that unpermitted signs had been up for 14 years without issue. The painted signs, which read “wedding dress cleaning” and “leather repair,” have since been taken down after inspectors threatened the business with a $1,000-per-day fine….”

    Parasite thugs gonna parasite thug.

    “Mimi Simon, a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings justified the regulation in a statement:

    “[S]igns under 50 square feet in a single window have a minimal zoning review fee of $50, and if a business is found to be noncompliant, fines are typically not issued if the business can prove compliance with the Chicago Building Code at an Administrative Hearing. ? The goal of the Department of Buildings is to work with business owners to bring them into compliance”

    That’s not the goal and don’t ever be fooled into thinking government jerk offs like Mimi care about small business. This petty shit happens everywhere (although Chicago seems to have this racket down to a science but Montreal gives it a good run for the money I bet) and I’ve had to deal with insane, irrational, time consuming bureaucrats in my town. I just stopped bothering going to them because it usually goes nowhere and boy do they have attitudes.

  31. So, just put the sign on a stand an inch or so behind the window or use suction cups and take the sign down every day or so. A non permanent sign. What do they do with fast food places that are always putting up signs to announce specials. Surely they don’t get a permit and a contractor every time they have a special.

  32. This is one seriously fucked up law. Permits and fees for window signs? WTF??? Do you also need a license to take a piss or dump in Chicago? Doesn’t this violate your basic rights somehow?

    The government and unions are just another form of organized crime shaking people down.

    1. “Do you also need a license to take a piss or dump in Chicago?”

      Of course not! That would be tyranny!

      Better get a union member to wipe you afterwards, though… Or else there’ll be fines.

    2. Do you also need a license to take a piss or dump in Chicago?

      You could probably get hired as a consultant to the mayor’s office.

  33. 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno wants to see a more business-friendly regulation: “the city is punishing small businesses and needs to back off.” He is working on an ordinance that would allow window signs “for a nominal fee.”

    Same Joe Moreno who threatened to block a Chic-Fil-A in Chicago because he opposes the views of the owner? That guy.

    1. Yeah, the intern needs to do more thorough research before posting.

  34. Serves them right for selling Chicago “pizza”.

  35. I witnessed this madness first hand back in the 1970’s at McCormick Place. Working a display booth for the company I was working for, some union jackhole began screaming when I was “caught” putting some display pieces together and plugging them into an electrical receptacle. “You can’t do that?” bellowed the cowardly, ignorant loser.

    You union people suck beyond compare. You’re untrustworthy, dishonest, lazy and smell bad. And yes, that includes cops, teachers and fire fighters.

    Oh, on a bright note, today (8/5/2017), the UAW was soundly defeated in a vote at a Nissan plant in Mississippi.

  36. This sort of thing is rampant in most big cities. I live outside Philadelphia. At our convention center you can’t plug in an extension cord without calling in a union worker. It has cost the city many millions in lost revenue. More than a few large shows have deserted Philly.


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  38. Doesn’t appear to me that the lettering takes up more than 25% of the window space, but pretty expensive to argue that with city hall.
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  39. Nice restaurant you have there…..would be a crying shame if something happened to it…..
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  40. Any wonder that productive, entrepreneurial people are leaving Chicago?

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