It’s the last few steps home from a long commute after a terrible day at work. Your mind is full of selfish misery. But then, standing out from the sidewalk in bold black and white, you spot a cheeky little sandwich board sitting beside one of those tiny coffee shops. It says something funny, it makes you smile. Suddenly, you kind of like this street.
Urban sandwich boards (A-frame signs, to be precise) are a unique brand of marketing. The best ones (the kind that get on tumblrs) don’t even have much to do with the products sold in-store. And maybe that’s why they’re likeable: they don’t seem like ads. Instead, they come across as the more acceptable, straight-laced cousin to graffiti.
But a lot of the signs we’re talking about are pretty much illegal. As of 2005, every business wanting a board in Toronto had to purchase a $97 permit, and, in spite of all the signage out there, only 69 were issued last year. Also, laughably, the boards are “prohibited in areas on Yonge and Bloor street” and all sandwich boards must be “up against the wall of the business”, a rare sight indeed.
Some people complain that the ads take up too much room on the sidewalk, hamstringing wheelchairs, people with strollers, and the seeing-impaired.
But to others, they’re a triumph of branding, the hope that humor and chalk can convince you to try their untested coffee shop or bar over Starbucks or Jack Astors — not based on their product, mind you, but on their coolness.
And maybe, for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe the sandwich board can bring character to a neighbourhood while also being an advertising tool, a piece of moveable urbanism.
Whatever the case, they remain fun to look at.