Billboard magazines

Dec 18, 2002 at 12:00 am

To attract customers, the owners of All Star Books, a comic-book shop, painted a fanciful mural on an exterior wall. The artwork went up shortly after the shop opened on Detroit’s east side this year.

But folks driving along Mack Avenue through East English Village shouldn’t bother looking for it. The owner of a nearby market recently erected a billboard that completely blocks the artwork.

Dan Zam and Mike Cramer, who co-own the magazine and comic-book shop, claim they are being harassed by Ron Vitale, owner of the Yorkshire Food Market.

“The sole purpose is to block my advertising and hurt my business,” says Cramer.

Vitale and his family have owned Yorkshire Market since 1947. They also own a parking lot adjacent to All Star Books, where the blank billboard went up about a month ago. The sign will feature Yorkshire Market’s logo, which graced the bookstore’s wall before the mural replaced it, says Vitale.

Vitale insists he’s not harassing his neighbor, but it’s pretty apparent he’s no great fan of the mural. “They’re not your normal comic-book characters,” Vitale says of the artwork.

He’s not alone. Neighbors complained about the mural to Bill Barlage, president of the East English Village Association. Barlage says some residents were glad to see Vitale’s billboard appear. He adds that residents also are bothered that the bookstore sells pornography.

“The pornography is bagged up and not where it is visible,” says Zam, who sells adult comics and vintage Playboy, Penthouse and other similar magazines.

Before the billboard went up, someone defaced the mural three times, says Cramer, who made complaints to police. After the last incident, he installed a camera. The perpetrator never returned.

The bookstore owners asked the City of Detroit to deny Vitale a permit for the billboard. They cited an ordinance that prohibits posting such advertisements within 1,000 feet of each other. The city nonetheless gave its OK, allowing Vitale’s billboard to go up about two feet from the mural. Cramer and Zam may sue Vitale.

“It is clearly a violation of the sign ordinance,” says attorney David Powell, who represents the bookstore.

Between Yorkshire Food Market and All Star Books are two vacant storefronts that Cramer and Zam also own. Cramer says one will be a ceramic art gallery and the other may be rented to a business that will compete with Vitale’s store.

Holy escalation! Isn’t there a superhero with the power to stop squabbles like this from spiraling out of control? Clearly, this is a situation that calls for Mediation Man.

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