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Have all of these you want...
Since the Washington State Liquor Control Board approved regulations to limit the number and size of outside-display alcohol signs

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Signs of Defiance? Booze Neon Removal Sluggish at Best

unrestricted .jpg
Have all of these you want...
Since the Washington State Liquor Control Board approved regulations to limit the number and size of outside-display alcohol signs -- effectively limiting bars and restaurants to four, front-window beverage-branded neon signs -- one fact has remained consistent:

Compliance is spotty to nonexistent.

"My guess is most owners are going to wait for the state to get serious," says one bar manager who asked to remain anonymous because his bar still displays 12 neons on the street-facing windows. "Or maybe the inspectors realize what a stupid law this is."

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but only four of these.
Brian Smith, spokesman for the liquor control board, agrees compliance has been erratic. "I've seen some places in Olympia make the change and other places so far have not," he says. "But we're not in enforcement mode -- yet."

Instead, he says, the board currently is pushing education. Last May, letters went out to bar owners across Washington informing them that state liquor regulators -- convinced that alcohol advertising encourages underage drinking -- now insist that brand-specific advertising displays such as neon signs or banners not exceed a total of 1,600 square-inches at each bar.

In other words, the new regulations allow four average-size neon signs visible on the street. Violators could receive a small fine and up to a five-day liquor license suspension. The changes don't affect a bar's own named neon sign, the number of signs on interior walls or non-branded signs such as neon martini glasses or "cocktails" signs.

Some of the largest beer ads in the state won't be affected. For example, the regulations don't restrict massive, lucrative beer ads at Safeco Park and Qwest Field or alcohol-brand-themed billboards or large wall murals.

The sign restriction angered bar owners who questioned the legitimacy of the underage drinking claim -- at least as it relates to neon signs. Smith agrees that the study cited as proof doesn't distinguish between types of advertising, just the overall volume of it.

Under the regulations, a bar could still have a banner reading "Labor Day Drink Specials," but that display couldn't have a beer or booze company logo on it if it pushes the bar's overall brand advertising beyond 1,600 square-inch limit visible on the street.

Smith says he'll be discussing with the board what the next step will be. "We wanted to start with that initial letter on hopes that licensee of most of them would make that conversion," he says. "It's probably time to start a new wave of education. I plan to talk with (the liquor board) about how they want to enforce it next."

The author is co-owner of the Streamline Tavern on Lower Queen Anne.

 
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