The Charleston Antique Mall is one of those seven-day-a-week outfits that rents out space to 45 or so independent antique vendors. Think Victorian furniture, Depression glass, Coca-Cola collectibles, old Elvis records.
Proprietor Cal Tully says the mall is doing fine, despite the current economic squeeze — maybe because of it. (Full disclosure: The brunette sells vintage fashion and collectible used books at the Charleston Antique Mall, her four rooms in the northeast corner comprising “Cat’s Curiosities.” I help out with the books.)
But the Charleston Antique Mall has a problem — a problem not of its own making.
You can see the mall — formerly known as the “Red Rooster Shops,” though the two businesses are now divorced — from Charleston Boulevard between Interstate 15 and the railroad tracks, just west of downtown. But you “can’t get there from here.”
When they put in the I-15 entrance and exit ramps, the engineers cut off direct access to the mall from Charleston.
Yes, some folks park in the lot east of the old Holsum Bread factory, now converted into a professional office park. But to get to the antique mall’s actual parking lot you have to go WEST on Charleston under the I-15, turn SOUTH on Martin Luther King, Jr. (past all the parked ambulances), then EAST to pass back under I-15 on Wall Street, and finally left (North again) on Western.
The obvious solution is for the proprietors to put up signs with arrows at the two ends of Wall Street, on the steel mesh fences there, helping customers find the mall.
Other local businesses have also posted signs on the privately owned steel mesh fence at Wall and Western. (Michelle Tully, co-proprietor of the antique mall with her husband Cal, says the vacant lots there have a checkerboard of multiple owners; they’re still trying to track down the owner of the specific fence in question.)
Renee Pool of the “Not Just Antiques Mart,” a hundred yards to the south, and Ron Cook of Cook’s BBQ, recently relocated from Western and Oakey to Western near Wall, failed to return my calls, last week. But they’ve also had signs go up on the fence at Wall and Western … and come down again.
Did I mention this little retail neighborhood with the confusing access is in the City of Las Vegas?
The business owners put up signs — nice, sturdy, professionally lettered signs. Then Las Vegas City code enforcement officers come around and repeatedly either tear down the signs or instruct the Tullys and other business owners to tear down their own signs, even though they’re attached to a private fence, whose owner has apparently never been heard from.
Cal Tully tried to put up flags and banners along the guard rail in front of his mall; the state highway people told him he had to take them down.
On May 2, the Charleston Antique Mall held a sidewalk sale in its own rear parking lot. City Code enforcement officers came by and informed Mr. Tully he could be fined $125 for holding a parking lot sale without a permit … on his own property, in an area where customers never park, anyway. (That is to say, no parking spaces which are required to be available as a condition of the mall’s occupancy permit were blocked or used for the sale.)
Cal Tully says he’s also been threatened with fines of $100 to $125 for putting up his signs.
In possibly the most bizarre “violation,” the city’s “Dead End” sign, warning through traffic not to proceed north on Western from the Wall Street intersection, is visible only to eastbound traffic on Wall Street. It’s not easily seen by northbound drivers on Western. So, at least several times per hour, some industrious driver seeking a shortcut to Charleston proceeds north into the antique mall parking lot … and ends up making a frustrated and often high-speed U-turn when they realize city engineers have driven steel posts into the pavement to block access to Charleston Boulevard.
“Yesterday we had a huge truck” pulling that dangerous maneuver as customers walked through the parking lot, Michelle Tully told me last week.
So the local merchants put up their own, homemade “Dead End” sign near Wall and Western, visible to northbound drivers on Western. And officials tore it down!
Don’t try to put up your own signs that benefit public safety in your little neighborhood, unless you want to be fined, the city appears to be saying. But also don’t expect the city to put up “official” replacement signs when we tear yours down. We’re here to squeeze more blood from the turnip, $100 at a time — not to fix the problem.
What’s going on, here? Not enough businesses failing in Las Vegas — where, I should note, the pride and joy of the tax-funded municipal redevelopment projects, the movie theater at Neonecropolis, finally and predictably went belly-up last week, leaving that whole downtown block (originally seized by the city under eminent domain from actual, going businesses) to the pigeons?
“Thats what I want to know,” says Cal Tully. “If I was blocking the street or something, I’d understand. But he (the code enforcement officer) says that doesn’t matter, you need a permit. They also made Cook’s BBQ take down their sign. The owner, Ron Cook, says ‘How come you’re always picking on me and the antique mall?’ The officer specifically told me it (the sign) cannot be on private property. I’m learning the rules as we go, here. …
“I keep telling these people, one house in 22 is in foreclosure in Las Vegas. I’ve got 45 vendors here, trying to make a living. You want to make it one in 19? We pay a lot of taxes. On average, we pay $3,000 a month in sales taxes alone.”
Almost enough to fund the salary of the code enforcement officer who seems to have made this little retail neighborhood his personal vendetta. Thank goodness municipal budgets keep going up to “maintain the current level of ‘service.’ ”
I talked to Mayor Oscar Goodman and to Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese, who’s also the city councilman for the ward where these businesses sit, the latter at his barber shop Wednesday afternoon.
“They’re certainly not trying to put anybody out of business,” Mr. Reese said of the omnipresent “code enforcement” officers. “They told ’em they’ll work with ’em. Code enforcement will lead them right down the right way to do it. (But) we can’t give ’em a permit to put (signs) on somebody else’s fence.”
But isn’t that a matter between the two private property owners? Who’s the complainant, if no one can track down the owner of that specific piece of fence? People rent out space for signs all the time. Other businesses hold what amount to “parking lot sales” every day of the year. We’re expected to believe they take out a new $100 “city permit” every day? Why is this one little community of businesses — in a not particularly upscale neighborhood — getting all this “code enforcement” attention?
“Somebody is complaining,” says Mr. Reese. “I don’t know who it is.”
Is that it? Is the city allowing itself to be used in some kind of private vendetta by an unnamed, unhappy neighborhood snitch?
Both the mayor and Councilman Reese told me they hadn’t heard about the threatened fine for the May 2 parking lot sale.
“I didn’t know about that. I’m going out there next Monday. Talk to me next week, will you?” asked Councilman Reese. Mayor Goodman said he also plans to go visit the proprietors. “Anything I can do to help a local, entrepreneurial business, you know I’m going to do it,” the mayor said.
Actually, the City of Las Vegas is famous for this kind of anti-business behavior. Former Mayor Jan Jones didn’t like the Topless Girls of Glitter Gulch ruining the “family image” she had in mind for the Fremont Street Experience, so she sent in city inspectors to crawl around on their hands and knees, with orders to cite the property for any and every “violation” they could find.
When Andre Rochat tried to make a go of his “Frogeez” restaurant and bakery on Fourth Street downtown, they made him put in all new ovens and hoods — replacing the ovens that had been perfectly acceptable for the previous tenant. They made him spend a hundred thousand dollars erecting a steel scaffolding above a couple of tables he wanted to place out on the sidewalk, “sturdy enough to hold up a city bus if one should fall on it,” he laughed. Then they sent the meter maids to ticket his customers — even after 6 p.m., when the street was otherwise deserted.
Frogeez soon closed, as did (eventually) Andre’s original, far more upscale downtown restaurant. Andre Rochat is no longer causing the city any trouble in downtown Las Vegas … or attracting any customers there … or paying any taxes there.
Which seems to be just the way the city’s “code enforcement officers” want it.