Downtown Friendly Store Designs 2 – Subway

What happened a few years ago when a Subway opened in the Bayonne Town Center demonstrates an important point — it isn’t always the retail chain that causes problems with a new store’s façade or signage.

The franchisee opened his shop and mounted a back-lit sign without getting necessary approvals from the city. City approvals require a letter from the Bayonne Town Center Management Corporation (BTCMC) stating that the design of the new façade (including signage) is in compliance with its façade design guidelines.

The franchisee finally applied for BTCMC approval, but, since the guidelines prohibit back-lit signs, the design was rejected. The city made him remove his sign. The franchisee maintained that Subway required the use of back-lit signs and that if he could not do so he would have to close his shop. His landlord became irate about possibly losing a quality tenant — and the BTCMC certainly wanted the Subway in its district.

The situation was saved by Walter Chatham, a well-known architect who the BTCMC hired to review new façade designs and assure their compliance with its design guidelines. Chatham noted that Subway used a number of sign formats and that the one they used in historic districts would be in accord with the design guidelines. Begrudgingly, the franchisee put up the sign suggested by Chatham.

I learned from this experience that chains can have many formats for their storefront signs. To illustrate this point, I have posted above three Subway signs from Bayonne, NJ; Forest Hills, NY, and Columbia, SC. (If the signs are not visible, double click on the empty boxes where they should be.) Such variation can allow the signs to fit in better with the overall design of the buildings in which the Subway stores are located. This makes good business sense.

In this case study, the problem was caused by a franchisee who tried to avoid abiding by existing rules and regulations — not the chain.

This case study also shows that it is great to have design guidelines, but real enforcement is essential if they are to have their intended impacts.