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In fight against blight, Detroit cracks down on business owners who illegally post signs

DETROIT– William Shaw has a message for other business owners advertising their services on illegally placed signs in Detroit: “Don’t put them up. They’ll come after you and your business and they’ll make you pay for them.”

As part of the community service order imposed on him by the court for posting hundreds of signs advertising his plumbing business in the Detroit suburbs, Shaw must remove similar signs around the city.

“They will not back down,” Shaw said of Detroit enforcement officers as he ripped signs from utility and other poles on the city’s northwest side Friday morning.

On many street corners and in many Detroit neighborhoods, there are signs with offers on things like lawn care, event rentals, cash for homes and even low-cost health care.

Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration has been aggressive in removing fire blight. About 25,000 vacant or abandoned buildings have been demolished over the past decade. The city says it has also cleared about 90,000 tons of trash and illegally dumped debris from alleys over the past four years.

The city said it removed more than 615 “Shaw’s Plumbing” signs from February 2022 to July 2023, resulting in William Shaw being cited for more than 50 misdemeanors.

A judge ordered Shaw to perform 40 hours of community service with the city’s Blight Remediation Division, part of which will include removing signs illegally placed by others.

Shaw said Friday that he has paid thousands of dollars in fines but noted that “business is booming” at his store in Melvindale, southwest of Detroit.

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“I was in the city of Detroit putting up signs to promote illegal business without knowing that’s what I was doing,” he told The Associated Press. “We raised a lot of money to promote business. We did that in other surrounding cities. And we paid fines in other surrounding cities, but also in Detroit.”

Gail Tubbs, president of the O’Hair Park Community Association, urged the city to address the number of “Shaw’s Plumbing” signs, calling illegally placed signs a nuisance.

“We just don’t want it,” Tubbs said Friday as Shaw took down signs in her neighborhood. “We don’t need more visual pollution and decay in our community. We don’t want it. We don’t need it.”

Shaw said he is being made an example of. Others will follow, the city said.

“Mr Shaw is just the first. We have a list of the top 10, top 20 offenders,” said Katrina Crawley, assistant director of Blight Remediation. “This is just the first of many.”

“Quality of life is an issue for all of our residents,” Crawley added, “and having nuisance signs on poles where they shouldn’t be… is something that we want to send a message to the business owners. You have to stop it. There are legal ways to advertise your business.”

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