The discord between the Chester Borough government and Charles Wasser, owner of Once Upon a Table, rose to a new level when a summons was issued for violating the borough sign ordinance on April 3.
For his part, Charles Wasser has said this is the latest in a restrictive series of policies that are hurting the local businesses.
"I guess Chester Borough has no reservations in using government power to stamp out an American’s Constitutional right to express an opinion about his government," Wasser said.
At the heart of the issue, is the sidewalk sign outside of his Main Street cafe and furniture store. The sign began as a way to promote the cafe and raise awareness of the stores offerings. After receiving pushback from the local government, the sign was altered to express dismay with the government of Chester.
"This is a first ammendment issue," Wasser said. "And I have contacted an attorney. This is free speech, I have a right to free speech and I am being penalized for it. Other stores have had up signs like this and they have not been bothered. This is harrassment. I am being harrassed."
As far as Chester Borough zoning officer Kerry Brown is concerned, the content of the sign is not the issue, and therefore is not protected by the first ammendment. The fact that the sign itself violates borough code: 163-93 for prohibited signs as well as not meeting the historic materials and design requirements is the crux of the matter.
"It doesn't matter what was on the sign, it violates the rules for additional signage," Brown said. "And there was a warning issued."
According to Brown, everyone else who was notified for being in violation removed their signs. The only hold out was Wasser, forcing action by the borough.
"The last thing we want to do is take our businesses to court," Brown said. "We don't want that. We want to help our businesses because we want them here."
Brown said that her door is always open to discuss issues and thus far only one business has taken her up on the offer.
"I can't fix anything right away, but we can talk about ideas," Brown said. "And I encourage everyone to go to the mayor and council meeting."
The sign issue has been around Chester for a long time, as owners have struggled to increase awareness for their businesses. Things took a turn for the worse with the last economic down turn.
"Our businesses are dying," Wasser said. "We've had over 50 businesses go out and the government of Chester does nothing to help us. They just say no to everything."
Kathy Barbieri, President of the Historic Chester Business Association offers hope for cooperation on all sides.
"We are a very different organization now than we were five, ten or even three years ago," Barbieri said. "We are working with a liaison to the council and we have a committee working on additional signage designs that would match the historic codes of Chester."
As far as Wasser is concerned, his store is being unfairly targeted and his plans do not include backing down.
"Maybe it’s time to recall Mayor Davis who seems more intent on spending the taxpayer’s money suppressing free speech than improving Chester Borough," Wasser said.
Wasser is due in court on April 18.