The new management of Mealey’s Restaurant and Pub in New Market say they are struggling to keep their doors open and a restriction on commercial signs in the town is not helping.
Now, some members of the town council say they will consider changing the ordinance to help Mealey’s and other businesses.
Mealey’s, at 8 W. Main St., recently displayed a temporary beer promotion sign, which put them over their limit of 12 square feet of signage. The sign drew complaints from residents and a letter from the town’s zoning administrator, Bruce Galloway.
“...[The signs] are just to bring people into the restaurant so that we don’t close down,” Susan Shipley Witmer, Mealey’s general manager, told the New Market Town Council on Wednesday. “We are hanging on an edge right now, as are all businesses. We are battling a double battle of a dead town and a failed business in there before so we have a double edged sword to tread upon.”
She said the town’s laws regarding signs should be updated to allow businesses to display more signs.
Formerly known as Mealey’s Restaurant and most recently Mealey’s Table, the historic eatery was a fixture in the town for almost a century until the economic downturn and rising debt forced its previous owner — Chim Butt — to shut its doors in March 2009.
For three years the restaurant was closed until it was reopened as Mealey’s Table by Patrick Forest and Raina Hull in April. Less than six weeks later, that restaurant was shut down due to a weak customer response.
The eatery, which opened again July 25, is now under the direction of Chef Jack Hand and Witmer, with help from investor Carl Miller, a New Market cattle rancher.
“Mealey’s will not make it if we don’t have some type of signage out there,” Witmer said. “I don’t know where to go from here. I am frustrated ... because you've got a few people in town who don't want to see change, you've got a dead town.”
New Market Mayor Winslow Burhans suggested that Mealey’s apply for a temporary sign permit from the town. He said that the town, which is billed as the “Antiques Capital of Maryland,” needs to continue to be accepting of other types of businesses.
Bob Madrid, owner of Santa Fe Trading Company, at 33 W. Main St., said that he has no problem with the Mealey’s sign.
“I don’t see anything wrong with [the sign], I don’t think they should be permanent,” he said. “There’s a few people in town that bring these [issues] up and try to stifle business in town. [But] the only way that the town is going to be viable again is if we are allowed to do business.”
Madrid said he used temporary banners before to promote his own business.
“It attracts people,” he said.
“I think [people] should be more worried about the restaurant than the signs right now,” said Robert Esterly, owner of Robert Esterly’s Antiques at 20 and 22B W. Main St. “We’re lucky to have a restaurant, especially after it was closed for so long.”
Councilman David Price said part of the issue with the law’s square-footage requirement is that it does not account for the size of each business.
“As far as I’m concerned you should be allowed much bigger signage because you have so much of your building that is visible from a right of way, so we need to address it,” he said.
Councilman Dennis Kimble suggested that the council look into an amendment to change the town law.
“Our signage ordinance is outdated,” Kimble said.
Burhans said that the town could have an updated sign ordinance in 30 days.