Neon sign's fate to stay in the dark until Oct. ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY--Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

August 25, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Nowadays, the breakfast chatter at Chick & Ruth's Delly centers on just one thing: Will "the sign" still shine on Main Street in Annapolis?

"Some customers were congratulating me on keeping the sign, but they were premature," said deli proprietor Chick Levitt, of the three-word blue and orange neon sign hanging in the window.

Mr. Levitt and his customers must wait until Oct. 11 for the Annapolis City Council's decision on whether the sign will be allowed to remain despite a new law banning all neon from the Historic District. The council voted 7-3 last night to reconsider the ban after hearing Mr. Levitt's appeal, but tabled action for more than a month.

"I love Annapolis, and I wouldn't do anything to harm it," said Mr. Levitt, who started the business with his wife, Ruth, 28 years ago. "I've been able to make a living here with the help of God and the good people of Annapolis."

He said the sign, like his bow tie, has become as much a part of the deli's image as its well known menu featuring sandwiches named for famous politicians such as President Clinton; Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel; and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"The sign's here. It should be grandfathered in -- that's the American way," said Mr. Levitt, who waited three hours Monday night to make his plea to the council. "I think my words are falling on deaf ears, but for the first time in 28 years I'm going to speak up."

Equally vocal on the subject is Mr. Levitt's chief opponent, his own council representative, Alderman John Hammond, a Ward 1 Republican who proposed the law and voted against reconsidering it.

Mr. Hammond has compared the new law to an ordinance in the 1960s that required all overhead signs to be removed from shops in the Historic District.

"No one got grandfathered in on that. They all came down. I don't think neon signs are in keeping with the historic image we're trying to project," Mr. Hammond said. "I think it adds to the honky-tonk atmosphere we're trying to get rid of."

The only neon sign exempt from the city ordinance is the one that hangs at the Subway sandwich shop on Maryland Avenue. That sign was approved by the Historic District Commission several years ago.

"We've sent three letters to Mr. Levitt asking him to apply to the commission for an exception, but he hasn't done that," Alderman Hammond said.

But Mr. Levitt says his sign has been hanging in his shop window for 26 years -- long before the commission was formed in 1970 -- and that until two weeks ago, the glow offended no one.

"The original bill they were considering would have grandfathered my sign in," Mr. Levitt said. "Why am I the only person whose business would be affected? My position is stronger than Subway's. People have been pouring in all day saying, 'Chick, don't give up, you're right.' You can't fight City Hall, but maybe I can with all these people supporting me."

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