Store fighting over flags

AMHERST – Nick D’Augustine, a local storeowner, sees it as a patriotic right.

Charlie Tiedemann, the town of Amherst’s planning director, sees it as a violation of the town’s sign ordinance.

At dispute is a display outside the Oak Furniture Store in Heritage Place, a strip mall on Route 101A.

The two men, however, do not agree what the dispute is about.

D’Augustine said the disagreement is about six American flags he posted along the busy roadway to go along with the four hanging off his storefront. The town may start fining him up to $5,500 a day because, he says, of his desire to fly Old Glory.

Tiedemann said the problem is with the 20 small signs planted with metal stakes on the property near the road. The paper signs have messages such as “God Bless America” and “Support our Troops.”

“I don’t know anything about the flags,” he said, adding, “He’s trying to tie one issue into another.”

The row started when D’Augustine, who is 42 and owner of the store, felt it would be good to set up a patriotic display outside the store for Memorial Day.

The store has been in the plaza for over a year and in Amherst for about five years. It is filled with wooden dinettes, china cabinets and entertainment centers.

D’Augustine said he felt strongly about the flags because his father participated in the Allied invasion of Europe on the beaches of Normandy and earned three Purple Hearts.

On Wednesday, he brought his father’s beaten World War II helmet to the store. Inside, he also has a black-and-white picture of his late father, an Army veteran, instructing Marines how to use a flamethrower. He said he proudly wears a lapel pin of American and British flags, because the United Kingdom is this country’s best ally.

He set up the display outside the store Saturday with the intention of keeping it up until after Memorial Day. Around Independence Day, the display would be set up again, D’Augustine said.

But since the town made an issue of it, he said he wants to fly the flags anytime.

Memorial Day is no longer observed as a day to recall people who shed their blood so the country could be free, D’Augustine said.

D’Augustine said Tiedemann told him the flags would have to come down. “I told him from my cold dead hands. This is from the heart.”

But Tiedemann questions that. He said the media attention is the cheapest advertising D’Augustine’s store will get.

“It’s subterfuge to have attention drawn to the Oak Store,” said Tiedemann.

Retail businesses are prone to display lots of signs to try to grab the eye of passing motorists. But the town’s sign ordinance limits the number of signs on properties. The regulations were overhauled in 1994 and revised in 2003.

For Heritage Place, there is one large sign for tenants. Tiedemann said the Oak Furniture Store is restricted to placing its advertisement on that freestanding sign.

In fact, Tiedemann said town officials talked with D’Augustine about six weeks ago after he put out dozens of advertising signs along both sides of Route 101A near the plaza. The signs were taken down and no fines were imposed.

Tiedemann, who has been involved with planning in Amherst for 20 years, said the disputed signs fall into that same category, even though they do not name the Oak Furniture Store.

He sent D’Augustine a letter Monday warning that if the signs are not removed, the town could seek a $275 penalty per day per sign.

If the issue was solely about American flags, the town would most likely not be interested in the display, Tiedemann said.

The store’s landlord says he wants to enforce town regulations, but is backing up D’Augustine’s effort to fly flags.

Paul Cole, of Foxfire Property Management, said he would support his tenant if the dispute is over the flag waving, but otherwise all tenants have to comply with town regulations.

As long as it’s tastefully done and the other tenants don’t complain, the American flags should keep flying, Cole said.

Andrew Nelson can be reached at 594-6415 or