Don’t Mess with These Ladies!

Whenever I travel to the mainland, I’m reminded that one of the many things I appreciate about Hawaii is that we have a law forbidding outdoor advertising. And there are even strict limits put on signs identifying a company at its place of business.

You can have a sign on your store—How else can your customers find you?—but it can only be in a certain ratio to the size of your store front. And no signs of any size for any business are permitted above the second floor.

Signs that identify an entire multi-story building (the First Hawaiian Bank building in downtown Honolulu, for example) cannot be larger than a very small percentage of the total square footage of the side of the building.

If you run into someone who objects to our restrictive sign laws, I’ll wager that person wasn’t born and raised here. And it serves to support the idea that sometimes we tolerate things for no good reason . . . only that “It’s always been that way.” 

Here in Hawaii, our very tough sign laws go all the way back to the early 1900s and the credit belongs to a group of ladies who founded an organization called The Outdoor Circle. It still exists today and—trust me when I say this—these ladies are formidable!

In Honolulu, responsible landscapers, whether public employees or workers for private firms, will not take down a mature tree on public property, especially if it’s one of several desired varieties—monkey pod or koa, for example—unless a qualified representative from the Outdoor Circle has examined the tree and agrees that its time has come. 

The Outdoor Circle’s focus has also been directed at outdoor advertising for many years and billboards do not exit in our state. It’s the law and it’s supported by the vast majority of the general public. 

A number of years ago, late on a Sunday morning, I was driving to a hardware store when I happened to witness a confrontation between an overly zealous realtor lady and passing motorists.

The realtor was getting ready for an Open House and was in the process of planting a number of home-made signs, hand-drawn on sheets of white cardboard which had been fastened to sharpened wooden stakes. Each sign said “Open House” and had an arrow pointing in the direction of the house on the next block that was for sale.

As I watched, the drivers of passing cars shouted at the realtor lady: “Take ‘em down!” or “That’s illegal!” or words to that effect. One, a well-dressed woman in a convertible, shook her fist and delivered the ultimate threat: “I’m calling the Outdoor Circle!” 

Such is the impact this worthy organization has on our entire state. What a pity there isn’t a chapter of the Outdoor Circle in each of the other forty-nine!