Is sign-spinning the kind of job the St. Pete Chamber should be promoting?

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I’m still finding my way as a member of the St. Pete Chamber, so I’ll tread lightly here…

Why the heck is the St. Pete Chamber promoting, even half-heartedly, streetcorner sign spinning as the type of job it’s “proud” to see created in the city?

Chris Steinocher, the freshman executive director of the St. Pete Chamber told the St. Petersburg Times that, as part of its goal to reach 800 to 900 paying members and $1 million in dues, said that he’s “proud of how many new members” the Chamber has gained, including “young businesses, like a gentleman named Brian who’s a sign spinner. One of the ordinances (the city of St. Petersburg) is looking at is if you want sign spinners on your streets or not. So (Brian) came to our new member orientation and said, ” ‘This is what I do. I spin signs.’ ” He said, ” ‘I also employ two other people now … and one of them is a homeless gentleman who now has an apartment.”

Steinocher then asked rhetorically, “Tell me how I can say sign spinning is bad now? He’s created three jobs.”

I will tell you Chris how sign spinning is bad. Drive along 4th Street North, perhaps the city’s most important street.  Fourth Street is a boulevard which could go either way.  It could be a beautiful, tree-lined thoroughfare of businesses and residences. Or it can be St. Petersburg’s version of Tampa’s Kennedy Boulevard: prosperous, yes, but a blight upon the cityscape.

Much progress has been made to make St. Petersburg more of the former rather than the latter.  Bill Foster’s City Hall has moved the homeless off of Fourth Street. The city created an ordinance to limit solicitors and vendors from standing on street corners.  There’s even a codes enforcement officer who polices the street for illegal advertisements. The improvement has been noticeable.  In fact, one could argue Fourth Street North is enjoying an economic boomlet.

Streetcorner sign wavers sprung up after the city passed the solicitation ordinance.  Researching the occupation, I found an informative article in the Los Angeles Times.

Spinning signs is part of the competitive world of “human directionals,” an industry term for people who twirl signs outside restaurants, barbershops and new real estate subdivisions. Street corner advertising on human billboards has existed for centuries.

Spinners have cooked up hundreds of moves. There’s the Helicopter, in which a spinner does a backbend on one hand while spinning a sign above his head. In the Blender, a spinner twirls the sign behind his back. Spanking the Horse gets the most attention. The spinner puts the sign between his legs, slaps his own behind and giddy-ups.

The job is not easy money. Sign holders sometimes swelter in 110-degree weather and must master the physical challenges of throwing and catching a 6-pound plastic arrow. Some recount being pelted with pennies, eggs and insults from car windows.

While I don’t condone egging an unsuspecting sign-spinner, I understand the frustration.  The sign-spinners are a scourge on the city’s streets.  They are annoying, distracting and unsightly.  Even the proponents of sign-spinning admit this.  But they don’t care, so long as they are getting paid.

The legality of sign-spinning is ambiguous at best.  Some other municipalities are even beginning to make sign spinners into outlaws. Even if sign-spinning isn’t outlawed, should the practice be promoted by Chris Steinocher and the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce?

All signs would point to ‘No.’

P.S. While this issue is debated among city officials, you should boycott the businesses which clutter the city’s streets with their spinning signs.  Among those businesses which employ sign-spinners are Asian Wok, Liberty Tax Service and Westshore Pizza 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.