Gary Miller has always thought Rifle should look neat and clean.
As the owner of Miller's Dry Goods in downtown Rifle for 31 years, he knows a neat city is good for business.
That's why he didn't bat an eye when he received a letter, notifying him he was in violation of the city sign code.
"I felt they were right to say I was in violation, because I was," Miller said. "I overstepped my bounds."
What caused the letter, sent to most other city business and commercial property owners this spring, were banner signs put up without city permission, or had been hanging up for longer than allowed.
"When I put them up, I told some friends they were kind of tacky," Miller said.
The banners were in upstairs windows above his business at 118 E. Third St., and a Carhartt banner he left outside for too long, Miller explained.
At least one other business owner was not as accommodating or appreciative of the letter regarding banner signs.
Linda Hunter owns Shale Country Liquors, 1250 Railroad Ave., and in back of another business. She said banners and other ways of attracting customers are crucial.
"In this economy, it's so important to be able to get people in the door," Hunter said. "It's not a good situation. Everyone's down."
Hunter said such a crackdown wouldn't be as big a concern if Rifle businesses were "flourishing. But we're not."
"Rifle isn't a tourist town, we're an oil and gas town," Hunter said. "And when we don't have the oil and gas workers, we all suffer."
According to city sales tax figures, liquor store sales were down 9 percent in June, but up 3 percent for the first half of the year.
City Planner Nathan Lindquist sent the letters to Rifle businesses after several other businesses sought permission to use certain signs the code does not allow.
"They have a good argument when they can say, 'The guy next door has one, but he doesn't have a permit, why do I need one?'" he said.
In a May 29 letter to property and business owners, Lindquist said complaints grew to the point that a review of all businesses was conducted. Since then, some businesses have complied, including Miller's, but no citations have been issued, Lindquist added.
The letter explains banners are only allowed for temporary special events, and then only twice-a-year special events that last no more than 30 days each. That includes beer and food signs, although the code exempts hunting season, real estate, for lease and construction signs.
Hunter said the 60-days-a-year time limit is not fair. The limit was added to the city sign code around 2005, Lindquist said.
City Councilman Alan Lambert said the limit was imposed "because some people go overboard and it gets to be what others consider a junky mess."
"Some businesses, like Linda Hunter, probably do need to do more," Lambert said. "Sometimes a lighted neon sign can get you more attention, but not every time."
Hunter noted that while private businesses are limited to displaying banners, the city and others fly banners all the time.
"They take away all the ways we have for free advertising, our business will suffer and we won't be able to pay taxes," Hunter said. "Then who will be hurting, when the city doesn't get its sales tax?"
The code allows banner signs to be permanently placed inside a window, as long as it covers no more than a quarter of the window.
Lindquist said businesses could seek a code change to address the issue, which would not require an extensive process.
He said it would mean one meeting of the planning commission and one City Council meeting.
Lambert said he could see some room for "tweaking" the code to allow for exceptions or changes.
"What we have to remember is if a change is appropriate for a downtown business, compared to somewhere else," Lambert added. "Sometimes it doesn't make sense to have one law apply to all. And if we make an exception for one business, someone else could come in and make the same argument. Then we have an ineffective code."