In time for the start of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump (R), a banner was hung above Roger’s Frigate candy and ice cream shop in Port Jeff reading “In Trump We Trust” on the building’s second floor.
Barbara Sakovich, the village clerk, said the building and planning department issued a new order to remedy to the owner, George Wallis, after it was hung. The village has maintained the sign violates code 250-31D regarding signs, specifically the size and material of the sign being hung across the building’s second floor.
Frigate general manager, Roger Rutherford, did not respond to request for comment. By Wednesday, Jan. 29, the sign was still above the shop.
The clerk said she had already received some complaints as of Wednesday, but other than the violations of code, the village cannot restrict freedom of speech.
The business owner has five days from receipt of the order to remedy to remove the sign or be issued an appearance ticket and potentially face a financial penalty. Village Attorney Brian Egan said the maximum end of such a penalty could be a maximum of $2,000 per day not removed, but that would be on the extreme end for a sign violation, and could likely be less than that.
The candy store owner had put up the same sign three years ago in January 2017, during Trump’s inauguration. The banner caused several days of controversy before it was taken down. Rutherford said at the time the plan had already been to take the sign down after a few days.
In October last year, the village board unanimously passed a resolution reducing the number of days a sign can be up before it must be removed from 30 to five. Egan said the change was to cut down on time that the board felt was too long for a violating sign to be up, especially when applying for a permit is “not burdensome.”
He added that the courts and village comply with a broad reading on the First Amendment, but municipalities such as the village have rights to impose “content neutral” regulations, such as size, material, etc. Those regulations were in place before the Frigate originally installed the sign in 2017.
Reaction on community Facebook groups was similarly divided as it was three years ago, with some congratulating the shop while others claimed they had been boycotting the shop since 2017.
Wallis has been a character in Port Jefferson for decades, and the Frigate has become a major staple within that community. The owner of the candy store, as well as the neighboring The Steam Room, has been known as a maverick in some of his past decisions on his properties, such as in 2002 when he replaced a statue of Thomas Jefferson with one of an eagle to commemorate those lost in 9/11, according to The New York Times.
Additional reporting by David Luces.