Charming sidewalk display or unsightly clutter?
The city's recent decision to tell Michaels Arts and Crafts store it can no longer display products on the sidewalk outside its Fountain Square shopping center doors has led to a sticky debate about whether any businesses can have outdoor sales or displays.
Michaels is objecting, calling the displays critical to customer traffic and sales and a condition of their lease.
"We urge the City of Brookfield to permit sidewalk displays and sales and are willing to cooperate with the city to address any concerns it may have," Michaels managers wrote in a letter Friday.
But city business codes generally do not allow outdoor sales displays, with few exceptions such a seasonal enclosure approved for Simon's Fresh Vegetables' outdoor annuals sales.
About 98 percent of Brookfield's businesses are not displaying products outside, city Planning Director Mike Theis told the Plan Commission Monday night. But Michaels is not the only business that is, even though it is the only one facing a city order to keep its products inside.
That inquity led to a number of sticky questions posed by city officials and plan commissioners:
Should Grasch Foods, Sendik's and Pick 'N Save stores be allowed to display produce, periennials and other items outside? What about REI's outdoor hanging of kayaks and canoes? Or Dunham's Sports' daily roll-out of grills and bikes? Or gas stations' outdoor placement of wood, rock salt or wiper fluid?
"It's a can of worms," Plan Commissioner Paul Wartman said.
"You sort of wish it never came forward," said Ald. Mark Nelson, a commission member. "It has sort of policed itself."
City inspectors said those who are displaying items outside have done it on their own, with neither city approval nor enforcement. No one can pinpoint, for example, when grocery stores started placing items outside, but no formal approval was given, City Community Development Director Dan Ertl said.
Customers have come to expect and accept it at grocers, Ertl said. He added that grocery produce are different from other business' products in that fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers are natural products benefitting from air and sunlight and often found outside on farm fields.
Ertl suggested the city limited outdoor sales and displays to grocery stores and produce stands, but allow all businesses to seek permits to hold up to three sidewalk sales or tent sales a year, with each sale lasting up to three days.
Plan Commissioner Kevin Walghren questioned the fairness of allowing only grocers to place outdoor displays. He also said it would be "silly to have one store out of 20 in a (shopping) center that can have literally year round outdoor sales but the other 19 can't."
Others questioned how the city would determine who is a grocer. What about the Target under construction that will include grocery items? Or World Market? Should grocers be allowed to display non-perishable or non-plant items outside?
Commissioner and Ald. Rick Owen said he felt strongly the city shouldn't overly dictate what businesses can do on their property.
Nelson said he didn't want to see Brookfield "open ourselves up to sidewalk junk shops," cluttering the appearance of shopping centers.
But he added when boutique shops "put a little cart out by the door" to display unique products "it's actually kind of charming."
Commissioners voted to schedule a public hearing to seek input from businesses and the public. The date was not immediately set.