GOULDSBORO — The digital sign at the Prospect Harbor United Methodist Church with its red or green LED lights — it is the holidays, after all — has been the talk of the town for a while now.
“It’s controversial,” said Town Manager Bryan Kaenrath, whose office is in the building next door to the church. “You hear a lot of comments about the church’s sign.”
“Some people say that it destroys the character of Prospect Harbor,” he added. “A lot of people like the quaint, traditional New England look.”
One of those people is Mike Summerer, who lives with his wife, Pat, diagonally across from the church in a quintessential shingled home overlooking Prospect Harbor.
The retired physician and hospital administrator had a diplomatic discussion with the church about its new look.
“I understand the reasons for it,” Summerer said. “It’s much easier to maintain. The church secretary had to get out in the snow and manage the letters on the old sign.”
“But the objection is that it seems to be out of character with the appearance of a New England town,” he continued. “It tends to be quite bright and a little jarring.”
The church did agree to tone down the brightness of the LED lights to the lowest setting, but Summerer said the sign is still quite visible from his sunroom.
“It’s still quite bright,” he said.
A quick read through digital sign trade magazines reveals that digital signage is a growing international trend.
The industry touts the advantages of going digital: dynamic content (easy to change); cost-effective (no printing costs); and studies showing consumers pay more attention to and remember digital content more than static, print-based signage.
Bernie Hammond, pastor at the Prospect Harbor United Methodist Church, said the trustees and then the congregation voted for the digital sign to be installed about a year and a half ago.
“With an aging congregation it’s hard to go out and change letters and numbers,” Hammond said.
He said the church also has made its sign available for notices by the Dorcas Library up the road and the town office, which is just across the parking lot.
“We’ve had some really good response, actually,” Hammond said.
Steuben residents opted for a digital sign in front of the town office at their 2016 Town Meeting.
Hardly a word was said about it.
Town Clerk Julie Ginn said she thinks there was almost no discussion because the cost — $18,000 — came out of a surplus fund.
The sign is 11 feet off the ground and measures 5 feet by 6 feet.
Ginn bought it from a company in Sarasota, Fla., Stewart Sign, which she found by Googling “digital signs.”
“We couldn’t use our old sign in the winter because it would be in 4 feet of snow,” said Ginn, who said chipping the ice off the letters was no picnic either.
“Plus, you can only get one message up there,” she said. “This way the messages rotate.”
Ginn can now change the sign with a few keystrokes on her desktop computer.
Often multiple messages in different colors scroll at a leisurely pace — everything from the temperature to a reminder about getting dog licenses to the upcoming selectmen’s meeting.
“Nobody has complained. Really nobody has said a whole lot about it,” Ginn said.
In Gouldsboro, Cheri Robinson, registrar of voters, said she understands the resistance to the technology.
But she says people who don’t like the digital signs usually have never had to tromp through the snow and ice to chisel the letters off the outdoor town office sign.
“If it’s raining, we have to go out there. If it’s snowing, we have to go out there,” she said. “A lot of times in the winter the sign stays empty because it’s too cold to go out there and put anything up.”
“It’s about small-town appeal. I get it,” she added. “But it’s 2016, people. Let’s move forward.”
While digital signs generate their fans and foes, the industry is going through its own revolution.
Skylit magazine said the business is evolving so quickly in popularity and technological innovation that “you might even call it a Golden Era.”
“A customer could walk into your store and be greeted by name on a screen, or offered targeted advertising based on their shopping history with you,” according to the trade publication.
“It’s not quite the Cold War arms race, but it’s close,” Christopher Hall, managing director of the ICX Association, said in Digital Signage Today. “I imagine we’re not that far off from the day when the local McDonald’s — or maybe the local Apple Store — has an OLED front window that allows it to turn the entire glass exterior of the store into any kind of sign or graphic it wants.”
But Kaenrath, the Gouldsboro town manager, who, by the way, is upfront about the fact that he doesn’t like the digital signs, said don’t expect any big changes in his borough.
“People can rest assured that the town office, at least in the near future, is not going to be doing electronic signs,” he said.