The rights of business owners took a major hit last month when the City of Dunkirk Planning Board denied the sign permit of Jerry Speelberg, owner and operator of Old Sarge’s Drop Zone. Speelberg recently relocated his business, which includes an arms room, to the former Ehler’s building on Central Avenue. His proposal asked for permits to remove the Ehler’s sign and replace it with one reading “Old Sarge’s Guns.”
The Planning Board stated in their resolution that the proposed sign does “not preserve, enhance, or restore the exterior of the building.” However, discussion held during the meeting with Speelberg and his attorney indicated that their primary concern was the inclusion of the word guns. In a press release, Speelberg stated ” The board repeatedly stated that their only trouble with this permit was the word guns.”
Constitutional arguments of restrictions against free speech aside, the decision of the Dunkirk Planning Board seems a poor choice in light of Dunkirk’s recent efforts to attract new businesses. In a recent press release, Speelberg said, “I was quite surprised to see the City’s Development Director, obviously with marching orders from above, leading the charge against our advertising. Regardless of how the City administration feels about firearms, selling them is part of my business and I wouldn’t think, given the sad state of the City’s downtown, they would want to fight me. Ever since we moved to Dunkirk, we keep hearing that people want the City to be as it was. It is interesting to note that when the City actually had businesses in its business district, there were three gun shops in a two block radius. After we bought the Ehlers building, the mayor called us for a meeting. He brought me into his office and proudly showed me his memorabilia as a fellow Ranger. He told us that he was here to help and we should come to him if we needed anything. I guess he just didn’t mean a sign.”
Speelberg also commented about the board’s reticence to allow the use of the word “guns” on the sign. “I sell guns. Not Saturday Night specials to gang bangers, but to Americans who’s right to keep them is not only protected by the Constitution, but also protected by people like me who have carried them in defense of our country. It seems that this mayor wants me to hide that fact. I refuse. The message from City Hall is loud and clear, “Bring your business to Dunkirk, pay our taxes, just don’t tell anyone what it is that you do.” That type of hypocrisy is exactly what I expected from a politician. All that we wanted to do was to put the name of our gun store “Old Sarge’s Guns” on the sign where “Ehlers” used to be.”
The Ehler’s sign has since been removed, due to, according to Speelberg, “disrepair to the point of being dangerous.”
Speelberg, Jerry. “Ehler’s Sign Press Release.” Janauary 13, 2010. Print.
City of Dunkirk Planning Board. Resolution No. 2010-28. December 21, 2010. Print.