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Amityville to reconsider Stop & Shop logo

The new Stop & Shop logo.

The new Stop & Shop logo. Credit: Handout

The Amityville  village planning board is scheduled to again consider Stop & Shop’s request for a red, yellow, green and purple sign for its 351 Merrick Rd. store.

The board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Village Hall, 21 Ireland Place.

Supermarket giant Stop & Shop is re-branding its nearly 400 stores nationwide with new signs and a distinctively colored fruit bowl logo.

But Amityville has resisted its efforts.

The new logo is purple, red, green and yellow -- and each violates the village's color code.

The chain "chose colors completely inappropriate for a Victorian, nautical-style village," Mayor Peter Imbert said.

Twelve years ago, Amityville passed an ordinance limiting commercial sign colors to those in the "historical" palettes offered by several national paint companies, with similar palettes from other companies considered on a case-by-case basis. Businesses were given five years to bring their signs into compliance, Imbert said, though the village backed off on enforcement during the recession.

Stop & Shop's bold colors aren't in any of those palettes, which feature hundreds of tans, grays, soft dusty reds and blues with names like Revere Pewter and Monticello Rose from the paint companies Benjamin Moore, Pittsburgh and Turco.

The companies were chosen because they had "the broadest selection of colors without any offensive colors," Imbert said. The permitted colors, he said, convey "an image we want to protect."

That image stems from the village's Colonial origins and its history as a 19th century resort area for the well-to-do, Imbert said.

Many Long Island municipalities give review boards broad authority to approve or reject signs on aesthetic grounds. Some prescribe design guidelines -- muted colors and earth tones are "strongly encouraged" in the Town of Southampton -- but few approach Amityville's specificity, said Nassau County Assemb. Tom McKevitt (R-East Meadow), a lawyer and municipal law expert.

"I've never heard of doing it that way before," he said.

Suffolk County planning director Sarah Lansdale said she wasn't aware of any other municipalities taking Amityville's approach, either.

Stop & Shop officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The Amityville ordinance, and others that are similar if less exacting, are part of a trend in "community-based or grassroots planning" to "create a sense of place," Lansdale said. "One of the easiest ways to do that is through signage."

While the message or content of commercial signs is protected under the First Amendment right to free speech, ordinances regulating aesthetics usually withstand judicial scrutiny, McKevitt said.

In 2002, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Massapequa Park village ordinance regulating the number, size and location of signs on residential property did not violate the First Amendment.

In 1999, a court rejected an argument by Lisa's Party City in upstate Henrietta that a town ordinance requiring uniform sign colors had forced alteration of its trademark by disallowing the multicolored lettering of its sign.

Officials at an Amityville planning board meeting last month reserved their strongest objections for one Stop & Shop decorative element: the color purple, which would have appeared not just on the fruit bowl but also on a foot-wide stripe running the length of the supermarket facade at 351 Merrick Rd.

"I, personally, find that a little disturbing," board member Peter Keller said. "It seems a little intense to me. . . . I'm not for the purple stripe."

Daniel Baker, a Uniondale lawyer for the company responsible for the signs, conceded that Stop & Shop's colors are not an "exact" match of the historical palettes, but, "They are subdued, pleasant colors."

The board was unswayed. Unanimous in their opposition, members offered a compromise: a variance that would allow the store's colors with a white stripe and purple lettering. Baker consented, reluctantly.

But board chairman Donald Pollack also questioned what he called excessive signage above the stripe. "What about 'Low Prices' and 'Great Food'? Why is that necessary?"

"It's as necessary as any of the signage Stop & Shop has on this building or any other," Baker answered, adding his client had not authorized him to agree to any plan omitting those phrases. "This is part of their branding, and this is what they have on all their stores."

With negotiations at a standstill, the board told him to consult with his client and reserved decision for Wednesday's meeting.

Imbert, an insurance executive who commissioned focus groups on the village's image and pushed for the sign ordinance since first taking office 14 years ago, described the case as one of corporate branding meeting civic branding.

"I know we're not the Hamptons, but you can't fault us for trying to be better than what we are," he said. "We want our signs to be reflective of the community, of who we're trying to be as a community."

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