2014-01-23 / Local & State

Persistent Pa. Man Regains Sleep, Wins Flashing Neon Sign Flap

By Miles Layton

UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) – After months of pleading with South Union Township supervisors, Tony Mercadante’s persistence is paying off.

Supervisors are poised to adopt a neon sign ordinance that will prohibit flashing signs between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“I wanted something done,’’ Mercadante said. “It took me nine months. I just kept after it and after it. I decided that when I went public, I could put some pressure on different places so that everybody would know what the problem was. Evidently, it worked.’’

Mercadante of 564 E. Main St. lives about 40 yards from a flashing neon sign at BB’s Market on 580 E. Main St. The sign flashed into their bedroom window seven days a week.

“We didn’t sleep at night,’’ said Mercadante’s wife, Pam.

Her husband added, “We’d wake up every morning at one o’ clock, two o’ clock. We’d sleep only a couple of hours a night since this happened.’’

BB’s owner Mark Howard would not comment about the matter.

Tony Mercadante started his crusade by attending every township board of supervisors meeting since at least April. He would talk to the supervisors, but the flashing light remained.

“I wasn’t going to roll over -- that’s all there was too it,’’ he said.

Supervisors studied the issue because there were concerns about approving an ordinance retroactively that would penalize businesses on Route 40 among other places that had such signs. There was a question as to whether any ordinance would withstand a legal challenge.

Mercadante decided to take his fight to the street, Route 40 to be exact, by picketing the store and calling for a boycott. Many days, this lone voice in the wilderness held a sign as motorists among others voiced their support or condemned his seemingly quixotic crusade.

Mercadante said he took it all in stride.

“We had a lot of negative stuff,’’ he said. “I didn’t let any negativity on the Internet and Facebook and all that stuff affect me. You can’t take it personal. I saw people go into the store every night while I was standing there who gave me the finger and stuff like that and saying I shouldn’t be doing this. They would come down here and start yelling at us and such, but it didn’t make any difference. I wasn’t quitting.’’

But what about property rights? BB’s Market wasn’t breaking the law. Doesn’t a property owner have the right to use his property – within reason – as he chooses?

Mercadante’s answer is no.

“If someone owned that piece of property and put a pig farm there, and the stench was there, would that be OK for everyone in the neighborhood?’’ Tony Mercadante asked rhetorically.

Pam Mercadante said, “What about our rights?’’

She said she bought blinds and more, but the light kept showing through the bedroom window.

Tony Mercadante added, “Why should we have to live in a dungeon?’’

Mercadante said maintained he was morally right. A retired insurance agent, Mercadante said his sales experience taught him to push through no matter what people might say to him.

“If it would have taken nine more months, I would have been there nine more months,’’ he said. “I’m a persistent person. I sold insurance for 43 years. I’ve got a lot of endurance when it comes to stuff like this. I knew I was right. Deep down I knew I was right and morally he was wrong. That’s why I kept going. My family and my friends were behind me. They’d say, `Way to go, Merc. Way to go, Merc!’ People would drive by and honk their horns or give me a thumbs up, that would give me the motivation to stay out there even in the rain or the snow.’’

Mercadante’s efforts paid off when supervisors drafted an ordinance earlier this month that prohibited flashing signs between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The ordinance restricts illuminated neon signs from businesses that are located within 200 feet of a residence.

Supervisor Bob Schiffbauer said businesses that have flashing signs would be “grandfathered’’ in so as not to penalize those places that currently use such signage during normal working hours. However, Schiffbauer said, the proposed ordinance is aimed at restricting flashing signs between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. each day. He said citations could be issued against those businesses that violate that part of the ordinance.

Schiffbauer said the township is within its powers to adopt such an ordinance. He said the township will defend the measure through the legal system, if necessary.

Schiffbauer said supervisors are poised to adopt the ordinance at their next meeting in February.

Mercadante said he’s glad no one else in the township will have to struggle with this issue. He hopes similar ordinances are adopted countywide.

“It’s a victory for everyone in the county,’’ he said. “All the township should do the same thing. They all should pass this ordinance to protect taxpayers that have been there for a long time. It’s commercial and residential. It’s not just commercial. It doesn’t give him the right – I mean, we’re here, too.’’

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