Grandpa’s Pantry Seeking Legislative Help For Signage Issues
Cooktown, WV – A local small business owner is getting help from members of the state legislature after Division of Highways (DOH) officials told her she had to remove her signs from Route 219.
Lois Mamak, owner of Grandpa’s Pantry bakery and antique store, south of Buckeye, said losing her signs would mean closing her business, because her shops are located three-quarters of a mile down a gravel road from Route 219. A significant portion of Mamak’s business comes from tourists, who would never discover Mamak’s store, if not for the signs.
First Lady Lady Bird Johnson led a highway beautification campaign in the 1960s that resulted in federal and state laws regulating signage in unzoned rural areas like Pocahontas County. A West Virginia law requires signs to be within 600 feet of a business. Mamak described the day that DOH officials visited Grandpa’s Pantry and ordered her to remove her signs.
“Huey DeMotto, who was the inspector from Elkins, and William Light, who is chief of the division, came and introduced themselves to my store and introduced themselves as highway inspectors and told me then my signs were in violation and I would have to remove them,” she says. “I told them, if I removed my signs at the end of the road, it would close my business.”
Mamak said the officials acted unprofessionally.
“When they were here in February, Mr. Light basically threatened me,” she said. “He told me if I did not cooperate with them, they would make it hard on me. Also, when they were here, Mr. Light and Mr. DeMotto told me that the state could do things for me.”
Since then, Mamak sought redress from several state officials and circulated a petition that 1,889 people have signed, supporting a change in the law.
The business owner said she doesn’t like a solution proposed by the DOH.
“The Department of Highways seems to think the solution to this problem is to have the county commission zone the whole county so that signing will be legal,” she said. “So, their solution is – instead of having less government regulation where we don’t need it – is to have more government regulation.”
Mamak said Delegate Denise Campbell, a Democrat from Randolph County, was the first elected official to offer help for her small business.
“Within three days of when Denise received the first letter that I sent to any of the legislators, and which I also sent out to her, she responded to me,” she said. “She told me immediately that she would be willing to present an amendment to the state legislation. She did not know that legislation existed and she did not know it had been used to harm and close businesses across West Virginia.”
Mamak received a voice mail from Campbell on Sunday, in which the delegate said a committee is being formed to draft changes to the sign laws.
“We had interim meetings this past week on Wednesday and Thursday,” she said. “On Wednesday afternoon, I spoke on your behalf regarding your issue with the signage there and they’re actually going to be putting a group of us from different counties together and the Department of Highways is trying to work on some legislation to ease some of their requirements and restrictions that they currently have.”
The business owner contacted legislators throughout the state to bring attention to the sign law.
In addition to Delegate Campbell, Mamak is getting help from Senator Corey Palumbo, a democrat from Kanawha County and Delegate Larry Kump, a republican from Berkely County.
Palumbo wrote to the DOH, requesting that the agency take no action on Grandpa’s Pantry’s sign until the legislator has time to consider the problem in the upcoming legislative session.
Kump wrote a note to Mamak, telling her he would be pleased to co-sponsor the legislation being brought forward by Campbell.
Mamak said it’s important to preserve small businesses in America because large corporations are sending jobs overseas.
“We have, with our tax dollars, paid corporations to move out of the country and they’re loyal to their stockholders and not to the American people,” she said. “They could base here and put the American people back to work but they’re not doing it. So, our only future is in small business because large businesses aren’t going to do it.”