James Ta received a call this week from a customer, asking where his frozen yogurt shop was located.
The customer was calling from the parking lot.
"I had to take down my sign because otherwise (the town) would have to shut down my store," said Ta, who opened "I don't know that it has hurt my business, but people want to know where my sign is."
Building Commissioner Tin Htway ordered Ta to take down his shop's sign or face being closed. Htway said he was following town code, which states that new signs must comply with standards set for the historic district in which they are located. In this case, bright colors are among the reasons it was in violation.
Depending on who you ask, Fruitti Cup's sign problem is either a misunderstanding or willful ignorance of the regulations.
Some customers have told Ta they are unhappy with the town forcing him to remove his sign. One resident, Martin Dluzansky, wrote an email to Westborough Patch, saying he was "troubled by the town's demand that (the sign) be taken down the same day with no apparent provision to leave it up until the new sign was available."
"This doesn't seem to me like a very business-friendly environment for a small, independent, frozen yogurt shop that's creating jobs for teens as well as for all the contractors they used for renovations," Dluzansky wrote.
Htway said building code requires non-compliant signs to be removed.
Ta said he erected his sign in early June, weeks before he opened. He received the required permits that allowed him to open, and did not hear until earlier this month that the sign was a problem and that he would need to go in front of the Design Review Committee to receive permission for a new sign.
Htway, meanwhile, said his office had notified Ta of the requirement to review sign specifications with the Historical Commission.
"There is no requirement to have the sign (finalized) before an occupancy permit is issued," Htway noted, explaining how Ta could have opened without the necessary sign approval.
Htway said a Historical Commission member noticed this month that the sign wasn't in compliance. Other businesses in the plaza don't meet the sign standards, either, but they are grandfathered in, he said.
So, the frame that held Fruitti Cup's sign has been vacant since Aug. 20. Posters taped to the inside of the window alert customers that the store is still open.
"It's not nice, it's not attractive," Ta said this week, gesturing to the empty frame. "But I'm going to do what the town tells me. We don't want to get into trouble. I'm working on getting a new sign now."
Ta said the original sign cost roughly $1,500. The new sign, including installation, will be about $3,000—not a minor expense for the new business owner.
"I'm hoping that people will continue to support us," Ta said, noting the warm reception he has received from residents, some who offered to write a letter of complaint to the town when the sign was taken down. "We have a contract here for three years; we're not going anywhere."