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Lower Moyamensing Signage Workshop

Last night, Scenic Philadelphia presented a workshop on legal and attractive accessory signage for business owners in Lower Moyamensing.  Scenic Philadelphia was joined by representatives of the Community Design Collaborative, the City Commerce Department, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and Councilman Frank DiCicco.

Scenic Philadelphia distributed a specially prepared version of our Accessory Signage Handbook, providing information tailored to business owners in Lower Moyamensing.

Scenic Philadelphia was honored by the invitiation to make this presentation, and hopes to have the opportunity to help communities throughout the city with similar resources and events.  If your community is interested in Scenic Philadelphia’s help preparing resources to inform area business owners in making decisions about their signage, please contact us.

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Financial Assistance

After getting approval from L&I, you can begin making your new sign a reality. To ease the financial strain, the Philadelphia Department of Commerce offers grants for up to 25% of the cost of new signage. Before you start construction of your sign, you can fill out an application for the Small Business Commercial Improvement Program.

To apply, include current color photographs of your business and a written estimate of the proposed work. Non-owner occupied businesses must include a letter from the owner providing consent for the construction. Once the application is approved by the Department of Commerce, you have six months to complete construction in order to be eligible for the partial rebate. Be sure to keep close track of your expenses by saving receipts and invoices; photocopies of your approved permits and photographs of the completed work are also required.

Some Community Development Corporations (CDCs) have their own facade improvement grant programs. If a CDC is involved in your corridor, call them to ask about any financial help they may offer to their merchants.

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Once you understand your zone and its regulations on signage, you can begin to think about your design within the context of permitted styles and sizes. We have also assembled a gallery of sign ideas to inspire you.

sassafrass_colorThink about color. An attractive, creative sign and coordinating facade colors will always get your storefront noticed. If you’re confused about color, try to make your selection from historic color collections. Many popular paint companies carry historic paint collections, including Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams, MAB, and Duron. These rich, subtle hues that look great against brick and stonework. Some paint stores have designers on staff that will spend time with you selecting colors for your business, inside and out. Call your local paint store for availability.

greenhouse_materialsThink about materials. Sheet metal and plastics signs may be inexpensive, but what kind of message do they send to a potential customer? Rightly or wrongly, people make quick decisions based on what they see. Painted wood and metal signs have a timeless appeal.


caribou_placementproportion & placement. The Zoning Code sets the maximum square footage for signs in your zone, based on the frontage of the building. But, before going for the largest sign allowed, think about placement. Does your building have special architectural features? It’s best to have a sign that complements the look and proportions of the building’s original details, rather than hide the building’s beauty behind an enormous sign.

smith_contentThink about content.Remember, potential customers may just glance at your sign – don’t give them more information than they can take away in a second or two. For that reason, avoid filling your sign with visual clutter – phone number, fax number, brands of items carried, hours of operation. A good rule of thumb is to have 60% “negative space” (background) to 40% copy (words and logos). This creates a situation where your message will be readily seen and understood.

tailor_representThink about representation. How does your sign represent your business? Custom shaped signs immediately convey the essence of your business.




streetscapeThink about your neighbors. Your sign reflects back on the entire commercial corridor, and either adds to or detracts from the overall impression a shopper has of the street. An attractive storefront on a corridor of well-maintained, appealing shops attracts more customers for everyone.

Questions to ask your sign designer

It’s important that you work with a sign designer who can help you represent the essence of your business and your brand graphically – while at the same time, being mindful of the City’s rules and regulations on signage.

You’ll want to ask:

Have you done work in Philadelphia before?

Will you prepare “to scale” renderings of the sign and building for use in my application to L&I?

Do you have experience getting zoning and sign permits through the City?

Can you get the permit for me? Or do I need to get the permit for you? How do you like to work?

Are you licensed and insured?

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If you’re a merchant thinking about getting a new sign for your business, the first step is understanding the zoning of your property.

The Philadelphia Zoning Code addresses all aspects of land use, construction, rehabilitation and building improvements – including accessory signs (meaning signs relating to the business activity occurring on the premises) and facade improvements (meaning changes to the front of your building).

In order to install a sign that is considered legal in the City, you need both a Zoning Permit and a Building Permit.

In order to receive a Zoning Permit, a merchant must demonstrate to L&I that the proposed sign fits within the requirements and limitations as described in the Zoning Code

If the proposed sign does not fit within the stated guidelines of the Zoning Code, the application will be rejected. A merchant can then apply for a Variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Applying for a variance can be a lengthy and time consuming process, requiring your availability for hearings in Center City. You may also be asked to solicit input from the community regarding your proposed sign. Variances are best reserved for applicants who have a special burden in meeting the guidelines described in the Zoning Code.

We strongly recommend that you work with your designer in creating a design that fits within the Zoning Code for your property – it will save you time and money.

To find out your zoning code, check the City’s zoning map.