SANTA MARIA, Calif. -

Running a small business can be difficult, especially when it comes to attracting customers. And it isn't getting easier for local shop owners.

A well-known burger joint in Santa Maria is being told it has to remove a portable advertising sign from the sidewalk in front the restaurant. Now, the owner is speaking out.

"People have been coming here, they're now grandparents and their kids and their grandchildren are eating with us now. I'd like to think that we're an icon or a staple of Santa Maria," said Michael Velasquez, owner of Tom's Take Out on Main Street.

Velasquez's father started the burger joint 46 years ago. The longevity of the business has helped retain some regular customers, but like all small businesses, keeping customers walking through the door is a daily challenge.
     
"There's a lot of options out there now," said Velasquez. "We can't afford to advertise like other big companies can."

What they can afford is a sandwich board sign. It was made for Tom's Take Out in the 1970s and has been a constant presence on the sidewalk outside its doors.

"Businesses have it slow as it is in this town," said Velasquez. "Any little thing you can do that won't cost us a lot of money, and these signs don't cost us a lot of money to drum up more business, it helps. It really does."

But Velasquez received something in the mail recently. It was a letter from the city stating that he'll be fined if he continues to use the sign. Santa Maria adopted an ordinance in 2012 banning sandwich board signs in city limits.

"It was beautification. We were getting some complaints that it just looked ugly and we also had some sandwich boards that were being placed on sidewalks occasionally blocking someone," said Mark Van de Kamp, Santa Maria spokesman.

Velasquez would rather the city encourage businesses to self-promote.

"It's something simple just to call attention to us," said Velasquez.

Santa Maria isn't alone with their ban of these signs. Santa Barbara, Solvang, and all unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County prohibit these sandwich board signs as well.

As for Velasquez, he says he's going to keep his sign in storage from now on.