It’s a happy-go-lucky sight to be sure.
“It does get a little warm in this suit, but it also brings a lot of cheer to the people around here, and the kids love it. I have a blast doing it,” said Jack Wadham, a longtime Frog Level merchant donning the suit. “It’s a service for the community to see everyone smile and wave as they go past.”
But the tale behind how and why this life-sized frog man came to be isn’t so rosy. Wadham’s debut as a frog began during Frog Level’s signature street festival, the Whole Bloomin’ Thing. But he’s back now under different auspices.
Frog Pond Auction resorted to the masquerading frog man as a way to attract attention for their estate sales after running amuck with town sign regulations. The business was issued a $200 fine last week from the town after failing to heed warnings to take down an illegal sign.
Frog Pond holds a couple of estate sales a month out of their storefront in Frog Level. The days of their sales, owners Jack and Yvonne Wadham would stick signs in flower boxes and tree planters around Frog Level — along with a big sign strapped to their truck and strategically parked along the street in front of their store.
Town sign enforcement officers had stopped in during an estate sale in June and told the Wadhams their signs were illegal.
But when Frog Pond’s next estate sale rolled around last Thursday, they once again parked their truck on the street with big signs strapped to it so people coming to the sale could find them.
“It was not on the ground, so I figured I could get away with it. It was on our personal property, our truck,” Yvonne said.
Byron Hickox, the town’s code enforcement officer, said the tactic isn’t exactly a new one. A few times a year the issue comes up. He recalled a café in the Walnut Street Village strip mall that tried to get around the town’s ban on sidewalk signs by propping up a sandwich board in the bed of a pick-up and positioning it along the street.
“She said, ‘Well it isn’t on the sidewalk, it is in my truck.’ But that doesn’t make it OK,” Hickox said. “Everyone who thinks of that idea thinks they are the first person to ever think of that loophole.”
In the case of Frog Pond Auction, Hickox said the Wadhams had already been told once about the truck-mounted sign, so he was surprised to see it turn up again last Thursday. He stopped in and told Yvonne to take the sign down.
“I told them I would be back in a few hours and if it wasn’t down I would issue them a civil penalty,” Hickox said.
Yvonne said she hadn’t been warned about the truck-mounted signs before that day — only the ones stuck in planters, which she had taken down. So she was perturbed that Hickox came in while she was trying to run an estate sale and chastised her about her sign.
“I said, ‘I am not taking anything down right now. I have a store full of customers and it is not convenient for me right now,’” Yvonne recounted.
Besides, her husband wasn’t there at the time and she said she couldn’t move it by herself.
“I need a man to pick it up,” Yvonne said. “I said, ‘That truck belongs to my husband and he is not here right now.’”
When Hickox came back and the sign on the truck was still out front, he wrote them a $200 ticket. Yvonne’s husband Jack had come back by then, but Yvonne said she hadn’t had a chance to tell him yet about the sign given the frenzy of the estate sale going on.
The Wadhams own several buildings in historic Frog Level. What was once a mostly shuttered industrial warehouse district has witnessed a renaissance of sorts over the past 15 years, but still struggles due to its off-the-beaten path location.
“We’re just trying to bring business down here to Frog Level,” she said, citing the mural of a frog on a builder’s level they had painted on the side of one of their buildings.
She said the fine was unfair.
“They pick on us when there are like 15 other businesses also in violation that don’t get fined. If he is going to give me a $200 fine, give all those other people a $200 fine.”
The Wadhams plan to appeal their case to the Waynesville Town Board. In any event, Yvonne said they will refuse to pay it.
In the meantime, the new strategy of parading the sidewalk in a frog suit holding a sign is perfectly legal. Anyone who’s driven Russ Avenue at rush hour has seen the Little Caesar’s employee stationed on the roadside pumping a sign advertising $5 pizza.
That’s currently allowed, although Hickox questioned how effective it is.
“Maybe if you are driving along and see a guy with a sign for pizza you might say, ‘Hey, I think I’m in the mood for that’ — if you are right on the fence,” Hickox said.
And, if the Wadhams wanted to actually paint a sign for their business on the side of their truck, that, too, would be legal.
“If you have a permanent paint job on the side of your vehicle and you permanently drive that vehicle all the time and park it in front of your business, then that is OK,” Hickox said. “It is not something that would be done in such frequency as to make it a scourge to the community.”
If too many people start parading the curbs waving handheld signs, or spray painting signs on curbside vehicles, then it might warrant a new set of rules.
“But until it gets to that point, there are much bigger issues to deal with,” Hickox said.
Yvonne said she has a greater mission in trying to attract people to their estate sales. Their estate sales are a community service to families trying to liquidate their possessions and belongings. The more customers she can attract, the more money she can ultimately make for her clients.
“Everybody is having a hard time right now,” she said.
But signs are a balancing act, Hickox said.
“I think the problem, when you have an over proliferation of signs, people just filter them all out. Then you don’t notice any of them,” Hickox said.
Garret K. Woodward contributed to this story.