Lets be 'open'

For a town whose economy is so dependent upon retail sales as Manchester's is, it probably came as news to many that those familiar red, white and blue "Open" flags were not permitted to be displayed in front of businesses.

Ubiquitous in many places, and not invisible in Manchester either, the flags are a useful and easy way to tell prospective customers that a business is, in fact, open, and eager to meet you.

Local ordinances do allow for small signs to be displayed, but not, apparently, a standard-sized flag that says "Open."

The rule is a leftover piece from another era when, we will assume, folks were justifiably concerned that the wholesale makeover of the community underway in the 1980s and 90s was changing its very nature. Flying "Open" flags were part of the "visual pollution" that was a reflection of the admittedly vast and rapid change occurring at that time.

Fair enough. No one, or at least anyone who cares about the long-term health and success of the town, wants to see excess clutter and visual pollution. It's safe to say we're in a whole new era today, where the main issue is hanging on to what we've got and building from there, instead of what may have been the case 20 or so years ago.

Today, retailers struggle with online competition, the lingering effects of the economic downturn that began five or more years ago, fickle consumer tastes and the constant need to burnish the image of Manchester and the Mountains as a "go-to" location. There are plenty of other places out there competing for those visitor dollars.

Given that, you would think that any advantage conferred by the simple measure of allowing local businesses to fly an "Open" flag would not be a problem. But apparently it is. We urge the Planning Commission and the Select Board to move as quickly as possible to jettison the outdated ordinance, and in the meantime, approve any and all requests for variances from the rule. Hopefully, these would be administrative decisions that don't require approval from the full commission or board so that those businesses that wish to can begin flying those flags right away.

Another interesting idea that's been floated along these lines is to have a design competition to come up with a uniquely Manchester "Open" flag. We're sure the chamber of commerce and some local artists could come up with one that fits the town's character.

While it's a safe bet that not every business will fly an "Open" flag, the question needs to be asked: What if they all did? Would that be overkill and indeed cause visual clutter? That's always going to be a matter of individual perception, but we don't think so. The current popular design is understated and tasteful. And it communicates to a potential customer that pulling off the street and into a parking lot won't be a waste of their time.

If we can't get this rule change through, the question needs to be asked: How business-friendly is Manchester, really? We like to think we thread the needle between balancing the at times competing interests of several groups. But that balance point has shifted from where it may have been 20 years ago, and a correction is in order. It's OK to be "open."


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