For many in our community, December is a festive time of the year. Santa Claus is at every mall to greet children who eagerly want to tell him about how they’ve been extra nice and what they would like in return. Salvation Army bell ringers are all around collecting donations. People also make happy campers out of the electric company as they put up extravagant light shows and the city themselves will even put lights on all the trees.
Dan Cunliffe Jr. wanted to join the festivities and spread the Christmas spirit. The city governments for Lewiston and Auburn said otherwise.
The issue at hand was a few sets of Christmas lights around the Lewiston-Auburn area that said “Republic” with a diamond, bordered by various Christmas images such as a Christmas Tree.
Cunliffe is also the owner of Republic Jewelry and Collectibles, a local business that specializes in jewelry and collectibles ranging from sports to Beanie Babies, and even a few popular gaming favorites, such as Pokemon to Magic: The Gathering.
This is where the city governments took issue: they said it was off-site advertising.
This also included his own personal property, which the City is attempting to dictate what he can do for decorations on.
The Sun Journal spoke with officials in both cities. Auburn code enforcement officer Zack Lehnert stated, “The word ‘Republic,’ that’s pretty clear-cut advertising and we’re asking that to come down. The diamond is a decoration, similar to the deer or the dancing lights people put out. We don’t regulate that. But the advertising needs to be removed. And if he wants to leave it up on his property, he’ll need a sign permit.” Lewiston City Planner David Hedgier added, “I would say it’s off-premise advertising,” Hediger said. “I would say he could leave one part up, either the ‘Republic’ or the diamond. But not both.”
This is where things become confusing.
In speaking with Cunliffe, he made it clear that if it was indeed the law, he would comply. His wish to spread Christmas spirit isn‘t a political statement or crusade against government regulation, he just wants to say “Merry Christmas” to the community.
But how does one comply with mixed signals?
Auburn has taken the positions that “Republic” is advertising, whereas Lewiston implies its not the word itself but the combination with the diamond that crosses the line.
Well, which is it? If it’s the law, it should be uniform and as Zack Lehnert stated, “clear-cut.” It clearly is not and the area governments are attempting to enforce individual interpretations of the law as opposed to the letter of the law itself.
Cunliffe just wanted to say Merry Christmas to the community. The entire display was supposed to say “Merry Christmas from Republic”, although the entire display was not ready after Thanksgiving when he joined others in the community in putting up Christmas decorations and lights.
The community has had an overwhelmingly positive response, ranging from customers to online commenters. It is a beautifully festive display that adds to the character of the community, which is full of people who put up various Christmas light displays.
Even Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte has voiced his support. In a Facebook post, while noting he‘s expressed his concerns to his staff over the regulations, stated “I’m standing with Dan and his commitment to add to these signs and spread some cheer during this season.”
It would then make sense that it was another store that complained, attempting to use a clearly undefined regulation to ruin Christmas cheer. It wasn’t the community, which largely seems to have joined Mayor LaBonte in rallying around Cunliffe, but instead another business.
At this point, Cunliffe stated the city governments are waiting to hear back from the State regarding final word on the legality of the displays. Until then, the signs remain in an effort to spread some holiday cheer this Christmas season.
Is Merry Christmas advertising? Sure. It‘s advertising the cause of holiday cheer and festive joy. In a world of fear and unrest, having that one special time of year where we can smile and spread happiness is important. Cunliffe is only guilty of wanting to be apart of that.