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I hate this S.O.B. — and if you live in St. Pete, you should too!

By on August 2, 2012

This man — and the person who employs him — is the scourge of St. Petersburg.

Yes, in this time when city officials are faced with consequential decisions on how to pay for and build a new Pier, police station and stadium, it is this man — and the person who employs him — who represents one of the greatest threats to the community.

If you have driven along Fourth Street North, you’ve seen this man prostituting himself outside of the GoldMax located between 32nd and 33rd Avenue North, one block South of Visionworks.

Rain or shine, this man stands near the street and waves his obnoxious signs at the thousands who pass by.

So what, you say. He’s just a guy trying to earn a living by waving a sign. Who cares?

I care. You care. This city cares.

In 2010, the City Council unanimously voted to ban street solicitation on the busiest streets. The move was demanded by the general population looking for ways to limit a surge in panhandling.

This ordinance has been an enormous success, driving much of the homeless population out of St. Petersburg. In my opinion, addressing the homelessness and panhandling issues are Mayor Bill Foster’s signature accomplishment.

But, like cockroaches, the street hawkers and panhandlers, found cracks to exploit. Instead of panhandling and sign waving on the city’s busiest streets, they set up shop on supposedly less-trafficked thoroughfares.  That’s why you see sign wavers for GoldMax and Asian Wok and MIT Computers and Westshore Pizza.

Sign waving has even been embraced by the Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Steinocher, the executive director of the St. Pete Chamber told the St. Petersburg Times that, as part of its goal to reach 800 to 900 paying members and $1 million in dues, said that he’s “proud of how many new members” the Chamber has gained, including “young businesses, like a gentleman named Brian who’s a sign spinner. One of the ordinances (the city of St. Petersburg) is looking at is if you want sign spinners on your streets or not. So (Brian) came to our new member orientation and said, ” ‘This is what I do. I spin signs.’ ” He said, ” ‘I also employ two other people now … and one of them is a homeless gentleman who now has an apartment.”

Steinocher then asked rhetorically, “Tell me how I can say sign spinning is bad now? He’s created three jobs.”

I will tell you Chris how sign spinning is bad. Drive along 4th Street North, perhaps the city’s most important street.  Fourth Street is a boulevard which could go either way.  It could be a beautiful, tree-lined thoroughfare of businesses and residences. Or it can be St. Petersburg’s version of Tampa’s Kennedy Boulevard: prosperous, yes, but a blight upon the cityscape.

Much progress has been made to make St. Petersburg more of the former rather than the latter.  There’s even a codes enforcement officer who polices the street for illegal advertisements. The improvement has been noticeable.  In fact, one could argue Fourth Street North is enjoying an economic boomlet.

Streetcorner sign wavers sprung up after the city passed the solicitation ordinance.  Researching the occupation, I found an informative article in the Los Angeles Times.

Spinning signs is part of the competitive world of “human directionals,” an industry term for people who twirl signs outside restaurants, barbershops and new real estate subdivisions. Street corner advertising on human billboards has existed for centuries.

Spinners have cooked up hundreds of moves. There’s the Helicopter, in which a spinner does a backbend on one hand while spinning a sign above his head. In the Blender, a spinner twirls the sign behind his back. Spanking the Horse gets the most attention. The spinner puts the sign between his legs, slaps his own behind and giddy-ups.

The job is not easy money. Sign holders sometimes swelter in 110-degree weather and must master the physical challenges of throwing and catching a 6-pound plastic arrow. Some recount being pelted with pennies, eggs and insults from car windows.

While I don’t condone egging an unsuspecting sign-spinner, I understand the frustration.  The sign-spinners are a scourge on the city’s streets.  They are annoying, distracting and unsightly.  Even the proponents of sign-spinning admit this.  But they don’t care, so long as they are getting paid.

The legality of sign-spinning is ambiguous at best.  Some other municipalities are even beginning to make sign spinners into outlaws. Even if sign-spinning isn’t outlawed, should the practice be promoted by Chris Steinocher and the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce?

All signs would point to ‘No.’

While this issue is debated among city officials, you should boycott the businesses which clutter the city’s streets with their spinning signs.  Among those businesses which employ sign-spinners are Asian Wok, Gold Max, Liberty Tax Service and Westshore Pizza 

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