With a vengeance, Rick Spies tore off old liquor sales signs plastering Edgewater Liquors, layer by layer, ripping away decades' worth ofhandwritten ads for Budweiser, Miller and Coors.
He and his father had layered the 30-year-old building over the years, in keeping with the thinking that to beat the competition, you outdo it with signs.
Yesterday, Spies tried to reverse that trend.
"These signs arecertainly an eyesore to me," the store manager said. "We do it because all the competition does it. Many mornings I've pulled into work and noticed what an ugly building we have."
It's not the only one, county officials say.
During a tour that included the Edgewater store, County Executive Robert R. Neall launched a campaign yesterday designed to educate the public and businesses about illegal signs and other ads -- everything from flags to banners to pennants that flash,blink and flap in the wind.
Neall will follow the educational period with a tough crackdown on illegal signs, with the help of employees from the departments of public works, utilities, recreation and parks and inspections and permits, police and the Office of Community Services.
But the executive says he hopes to eliminate the signs through voluntary compliance.
Through Feb. 15, his administration will stop enforcing the county code, allowing property owners time to find out which signs are illegal -- and remove them.
Neall also plans to work with representatives of various industries, such as fast-food restaurants and service stations, to set new standards that fall within county guidelines.
"I don't want to adversely affect anyoneand put them out of business," he said. "If everyone did exactly what they wanted, I don't think we'd have an attractive community. It's gotten out of hand."
Property owners who fail to comply by Feb. 15will be sent reminders.
Then in March, county employees will begin enforcing the law strictly.
Before this year, temporary sign violations have been too numerous for eight inspectors to control, said Richard Gauch, head of the zoning enforcement division. Inspectors issued citations only after receiving written complaints, he said.
The current sign ordinance prohibits portable, changeable signs, signson utility poles and sandwich signs, temporary signs in state or county rights of way or temporary signs on private property.
Community organizations applauded the executive's efforts.
"The county is littered with business signs," said Tom Hasbrouck, president of the Greater Crofton Council, an umbrella group representing 3,000 homes. "Business owners ought to consider the consumer who is sick and tired of being buried under signs."
Some business owners and leaders reacted skeptically to the campaign, complaining of spotty, unfair enforcement in the past.
Richard West, owner of a Parole Shell station,said he was told to remove illegal signs or face a $50 per day per sign penalty. He removed his signs, but his competitors never removed theirs, he said. He found himself losing sales.
"Unless I can advertise my business, I can't stay in business," he said.
Harry Murphy of the Service Station and Automobile Repair Association said dealers are left with little space in which to advertise their services once they post their prices, which the law requires them to do.
And Greg Phillips, of the Anne Arundel County Licensed Bar Association and owner of Frank's Den in Glen Burnie, said his liquor store was cited along with four others last August.
"I was the only one to comply and nothing ever happened to the others," he said. "I put the signsback up. It wouldn't be so bad if everyone was forced to comply."