Business without a Sign

(WSVN) - When you own a business, you have to advertise … ads on TV, things like that help. And something else is needed — a sign out front so people know you are there. But one South Florida woman had her sign taken down by the landlord, and when they wouldn’t put it back up, she called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Running a business is tough.

Debbie Akers, Copy Biz: “I do copies. Prints, posters, large format printing.”

Now try running a small business by yourself.

Debbie Akers: “I am everything. I am the delivery person, I am the bindery person, I am the copy person.”

But after opening Copy Biz in Tamarac in 2005, Debbie succeeded because of her motto…

Debbie Akers: “I always put my customers first. And I treat people the way I would like to be treated.”

But Debbie says her landlord is not putting its customers first.

Debbie Akers: “Now they are telling me there is no room on that marquee for my sign.”

As part of the remodeling for the Shoppes on University and Commercial, Debbie’s sign was taken off the marquee out front. A few business signs have been replaced, but not a sign for Copy Biz.

Debbie Akers: “Very important. You have to have your name in front of people every day.”

The plaza is not full. In fact, it’s mostly empty. On their website as one of their lures for new tenants, the management company writes “pylon signage” because they have plenty of space on the marquee.

Patrick Fraser: “So there is 24 available spaces. There’s eight businesses here…”

Debbie Akers: “Sixteen small shops could go up on that sign.”

Patrick Fraser: “But it’s blank.”

Debbie Akers: “But it’s blank. No room for me after 12 years of being here.”

Debbie’s lease says she has to pay her share of maintenance for the sign. And when she asked when her sign was going to be put back up, one employee of Cohen Commercial which manages the property wrote, “[we] will let you know which space has been assigned to you.”

But that person left and the next property manager wrote “I don’t see” where it states “you have the right to pylon signage.” Just that “you must pay your portion to maintain the sign.”

Debbie Akers: “They don’t care about the small business.”

In the meantime, the cars on University Drive go by, not aware of the small business in the back o the plaza.

Debbie Akers: “I lose business every day. I have worked so incredibly hard to have this buiness and without my name being out there, new people driving by on University can’t see me.”

Well Howard, you have read the emails and lease. Is Debbie entitled to the sign she is paying to maintain.

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Yes, absolutely. Courts give plain meaning to words. And since part of her rent goes to maintain her share of the marquee, it’s implied she has a sign on that marquee. So they have to install her sign.”

I emailed and called Debbie’s property manager at Cohen Commercial several times but got no response.

I left messages for the people who run Cohen Commercial … no reply.

We even drove to North Palm Beach to their office where we were told no one was available and they would call us. They never did…

We called the owner of the building in Dallas, Texas. They didn’t return phone calls either.

Finally they offered Debbie a proposal; a temporary sign that she would pay for and they could take down at any time with 15 days notice.

Howard Finkelstein: “I would not sign that letter because it negates the clause in her lease that entitles her to a sign. And with the new document, they could take the sign down within 15 days. Also if Debbie decides to sue the landlord, if she can prove she lost money because she has no sign, they would have to reimburse her for that.”

Debbie Akers: “I have no intention whatsoever of signing this.”

Debbie says she will try to stay in business, but she can’t believe what the owner and managers are doing to her.

Debbie Akers: “It literally breaks my heart. I get upset and I want to cry.”

Maybe some good news. Just before we got ready to air this story, the management company sent Debbie an email finally agreeing with her saying per your lease, you have a right to a sign and you can install it.

Debbie said put that in writing on your letter head. She said they told her no, so she is afraid if she puts up a sign, they may take it down.

What’s gonna happen next? We will keep an eye on this and let you know.

Seen a sign you’ve got a problem coming? Ready to install some helpers? Send a copy of the info to us. So we can put you on the marquee to hopefully advertise your solution.

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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