Texaco fight blown out of proportion

By Eleanor Katz

*By Kevin Hoogstraten*

In the next few weeks, one of two Texaco signs will come off of the canopy of Mitch and Bill’s Texaco in Potomac Village. This may not seem like a big deal, but the fight over these signs and the ultimate decision to remove one of them is a prime example of Potomac Village’s changing image.  While residents can fight for the retention of mom-and-pop businesses, they should accept some of the smaller neighborhood changes, such as the new signs, without complaint.

The signs in question were put up a few months ago, when Mitch and Bill’s, on the corner of Falls Road and River Road, switched from an Exxon to a Texaco gas station. A Texaco representative oversaw the renovations and put up the thin signs, which stretch the length of two of the four canopy sides and are seen on virtually every gas station. Texaco can hardly be faulted for wanting to inform drivers of the company change.

According to a Mitch and Bill’s employee, the store received no complaints about the sign until a Montgomery County inspector came to the station. He found that proper sign permits were never obtained and ordered a study to see if the signs conformed to zoning regulations on square feet of signage allowed, which they didn’t. Mitch and Bill’s decided to take down one of the signs, and the issue should have been left at that.

A resident concerned about the signs’ size informed the County of the signs, which led to the inspection. While not every resident wants Potomac to remain like a small town, some feel that both signs should be taken down because they undermine the small-town feel of Potomac Village. As Ginny Barnes, former chairwoman of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, said in the Gazette, the signs are much too large for what is supposed to be a village and are the dominant sight at the intersection. She also said that taking down one sign wouldn’t help, since both signs are proportionally oversized. However, as long as signs adhere to regulations, businesses have a right to put up signs advertising themselves. 

Potomac is full of million-dollar estates and country clubs, and the idea of Potomac as a small town without chain stores and large signs is wistful thinking. In Potomac Village, both Safeway and Giant have similar signs to advertise their presence to customers, a reason that is both understandable and legal. Residents clearly want a gas station nearby, and they shouldn’t force the station to conform to their unreasonably strict expectations.

As for their size, the signs appear identical to the signs of other gas stations around the area, and just across River Road is a much larger sign listing the shops in the “Potomac Place” strip mall. With other signs already there, residents should allow Texaco to identify their franchise.

Texaco was wrong to not get the proper permits before renovation, and the sign may seem jarring to long-time residents. But Potomac is changing, and traditionalists need to pick their battles. Mitch and Bill’s has been a family-owned business and Potomac constant since 1949. Residents should fight against the closing of mom-and-pop shops, not hinder the efforts of those that are successful.