Neighbors think pink inflatable sofa is less than decorous

June 27, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

You can't miss the huge pink inflatable couch in front of the Today Rentals furniture store on Ritchie Highway, and neighbors say that is the problem.

"The thing people up here have been saying to me is, 'Oh gee, is that a brothel and is that the signal? A pink couch?' " said Woodie Bowen, a Brooklyn Park resident. "We were hoping it would break loose and blow down the street and maybe the traffic would run over it."

Residents aren't waiting for Mother Nature to blow down the 5-foot-high, 8-foot-wide pink couch.

"We're trying to have it declared as a billboard, which would make it illegal," said Mr. Bowen.

The couch is straining what had been a friendly relationship between the store and its neighbors. Seven months ago, residents praised developers for their renovation of the site.

The county's planning and zoning enforcement office, which considers the couch a sign, said it has received at least one written complaint.

"I know we had a complaint, but where it came from I don't know," said county zoning inspector Joannie Coleman-Casey.

Mary Ann Roesler, the zoning officer handling the case, was out of the office until Tuesday, said Ms. Coleman-Casey.

"She does have a complaint on it and she does have a case, but whereit is from there, I can't tell you," said Ms. Coleman-Casey.

Today Rentals store managers, a company vice president and developers of the strip mall said no one has complained to them about the couch, which has a big, yellow banner that reads "BIG SALE," in bold black, block lettering.

"If there's a problem, I want to get it cleared up," said Bill Parks, assistant store manager. "But nobody's said anything."

The couch stands out among the glut of signs along Ritchie Highway,he said. "It does get some people in. They usually come in and ask how much it costs."

The store, open six days a week, began putting the couch out daily in April. But it deflated in hot, humid weather. The store now displays it on Fridays and Saturdays for about six hours a day.

Joe Cordery, vice president of operations for Today Rentals, said no one has contacted the store's headquarters in Highlandtown to complain about the couch.

"No one ever spoke to us," said Leonard Weinberg, a partner in the Baltimore-based firm that developed and manages the strip mall, once home to a bar and the Ritchie Motel, a notorious hangout for prostitutes that was closed three years ago.

Mr. Bowen said the couch is in keeping with a Brooklyn Park tradition of off-beat advertisements. A liquor business once used a bikini-clad inflatable female figure to attract customers, and a carwash used a 6-foot-tall mechanical gorilla to wave people in.

The inflatable doll and the mechanical gorilla became history when the county, after receiving numerous complaints about oversized or unsightly signs, began to enforce the sign ordinance in 1991.

Whether the pink couch will survive is not known. Mr. Cordery said it is much better than the seedy businesses that used to occupy the west side of Ritchie Highway near 11th Avenue. "Most people who see it think it's amusing," he said.

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