Tom Eblen: Lexington to rid the nest of feather signs

Illegal banners along busy roads are both distraction, blight

Herald-Leader columnistFebruary 25, 2013 

City officials have begun cracking down on so-called "feather" banners and other illegal signs that have been popping up around town, such as these along New Circle Road.

TOM EBLEN — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

The days are numbered for those gaudy banners that have been sprouting up like dandelions along Lexington's major commercial roads.

The Division of Planning has begun a crackdown against those so-called feather signs, which like many of the temporary signs that litter Lexington roadways, are illegal under city ordinance.

Zoning enforcement is first focusing on New Circle Road, between Georgetown and Richmond roads, where the signs seem to be thickest, said Chris King, the planning division's director. Letters went out earlier this month to property owners, followed by site visits last week.

Properties where the signs remain up after March 18 will be subject to civil citations and fines that under the ordinance could initially be as high as $200 a day. King said enforcement officers also would be going after other types of illegal signs and in other parts of town. In addition to creating "visual blight in the community," King said, illegal signs can distract drivers and put businesses that obey the law at a competitive disadvantage.

"There has just been an explosion of those things," King said. "We want to send a message to other businesses, too, that in case you were thinking about it, don't waste your money."

Maker's Mark marketing?

I'm not saying Bill and Rob Samuels planned this all along, but I sure wondered last week when I heard they had quickly canceled plans to water down Maker's Mark whisky to make supplies go further.

Maybe I wondered because Bill Samuels is one of America's sharpest marketers, or because I was a business editor at the Atlanta newspapers when the New Coke affair was still fresh in everyone's mind.

Whatever the case, the Maker's Mark affair was anything but the "debacle" some media reports called it. In case you weren't paying attention, here's what happened:

Rob Samuels, who has been taking over the reins of the Beam Inc. brand from his father, announced Feb. 9 that there just wasn't enough Maker's Mark to keep up with demand, despite the distillery's frequent expansions in recent years.

So, he said, they had decided to dilute their bourbon from 45 percent alcohol, or 90 proof, to 42 percent alcohol, or 84 proof. They said the decision was made after much testing to make sure that a tad more water wouldn't change the taste.

Nine days later, Rob Samuels reversed course, saying, "You spoke. We listened." He said the company, which has its offices in Louisville and its distillery near the Marion County town of Loretto, got thousands of complaints from loyal customers who didn't want their favorite bourbon messed with.

The Samuelses had to know there would be pushback, because bourbon lovers are a tradition-loving bunch. There's a reason Kentucky bourbon has been marketed for more than a century under labels of "old" this and "old" that.

Bourbon's popularity is booming around the world, and a big reason is that so much good stuff is now being made. A few decades ago, when many bourbon distillers were producing mediocre stuff, Maker's Mark was one of the few quality choices. Now, the top shelf is a crowded place, with dozens of great bourbons to suit every taste.

The Maker's Mark affair will go down in marketing textbooks as another stroke of Samuels genius. Think about it: if nobody had complained, the distillery would have had more bourbon to sell. When, predictably, customers raised hell, Maker's Mark got a barrel full of free publicity.

Vote for our fair city

Lexington is one of 20 finalist cities in Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge, which seeks innovative ideas that can be replicated for improving the way cities work. The winning city will get $5 million to help make its idea happen; four runners-up will get $1 million each.

The idea Mayor Jim Gray submitted is called CitizenLex.org. It would be an online platform with city data and reports, as well as transparent systems to help citizens generate, manage and track ideas for improving Lexington.

As part of the selection process this spring, Bloomberg is working with the news and opinion website Huffington Post to ask readers to vote for their favorite idea. Vote for Lexington between now and March 6 at Huff.to/XpwcJj.

Tom Eblen: (859) 231-1415. Email: teblen@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @tomeblen. Blog: tomeblen.bloginky.com

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