Some Business Owners Say This Election Makes Campaign Signs Worth The Risk

Oct 14, 2016
Originally published on October 14, 2016 7:32 pm

Expressing political beliefs with a yard sign is common. But business owners can hurt their bottom lines by advertising an opinion.

Political scientists and marketing experts generally advise against doing that, as we first reported during the 2012 election.

Despite the advice, some business owners are willing to risk a financial hit, depending on whether their customers agree with them.

The Philadelphia suburbs are swing territory during elections, so you won't find many signs in shop windows there. Owners don't want to risk alienating up to half their customer base. But in Republican-dominated rural Pennsylvania? No problem.

"Our country's headed in a bad direction. We need to get it turned around and I think Trump's going do that for us," says 28-year-old Adam Miller. His family owns Miller's Auto Sales and Service in Dillsburg, Pa.

The Millers agreed to have a 4-foot-by-8-foot red, white and blue Trump sign outside where thousands of drivers see it on Route 15 every day.

Putting the sign there isn't just about supporting Trump, though. Miller says he feels like an increasingly diverse country is telling him his views no longer matter.

"To be honest with you I feel like, 'The white guy is always wrong,' and it needs to stop," Miller says.

Asked to say more about that, at first he has trouble explaining exactly why he feels this way. But talk with him more and the Colin Kaepernick issue comes up. Kaepernick is the professional football player who refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest over how the country treats people of color.

Miller's older brother Robert says President Obama's defense of Kaepernick's right to protest really upset both of them.

"Our president shouldn't be talking about a sports star. Our president should be talking about real issues," Robert Miller says.

Those are views that might lose them business elsewhere — but the brothers say not here, where voters chose Mitt Romney in 2012 over Barack Obama by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

Farther south in Emmitsburg, Md., Chubby's Barbeque has a big Trump sign out front, too. Owner Tom Caulfield says he got a few complaints but he doesn't want those people as customers anyway.

"That's the kind of person that will come in here, drive my staff crazy and tip them nothing. And, no, I don't want them in here," he says.

Customer Martin Slouka says political signs of any sort don't bother him — he's here for the barbecue.

"It's a First Amendment expression of speech and they're a business owner and they have a right to express their opinion as much as anybody else," Slouka says.

In Philadelphia's downtown "Gayborhood" it's a similar story, but on the other side of the political spectrum. It's clearly Clinton territory — a gay bar has a campaign banner across the front. Nearby a restaurant has a sign that reads "LGBT for Hillary."

After looking at the menu with her husband, Virginia Strong says most elections she would rather business owners kept their politics to themselves.

"But this year I like a clear expression of where a business is standing," she says. Strong adds that she is more likely to patronize a place that supports Clinton.

In Philadelphia's Chinatown, Bubblefish restaurant co-owner Xu Lin has a Clinton sign in his window and is not shy talking about why.

"Trump is a crazy, crazy person — he's a racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist person," Lin says.

And like the Trump supporters in rural Pennsylvania, Lin says there's little risk to his business saying so in a place where many others share the same view.

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It's not unusual for homeowners to express their political beliefs with a yard sign on the front lawn. Business owners can hurt their bottom line when they do the same. Marketing experts generally advise against doing that. But NPR's Jeff Brady found some business owners who are willing to risk the financial hit.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The Philadelphia suburbs are swing territory, so you won't find many signs in shop windows there - too risky. But in Republican-dominated rural Pennsylvania - no problem.

ADAM MILLER: Our country's headed in a bad direction. We need to get it turned around. And I think Trump's going to do that for us.

BRADY: Adam Miller's family owns a car lot and repair shop. There's a big red, white and blue Trump sign outside. It's not just about the candidate, though. Miller says he feels like an increasingly diverse country is telling him his views no longer matter.

A. MILLER: It's tough because at the end of the day, I feel like - to be honest with you, I feel like the white guy is always wrong. And it needs to stop. It needs to stop.

BRADY: Tell me more about that.

Miller is proud of his Trump sign even if he has trouble explaining why he feels this way. Talk more, and the Colin Kaepernick issue comes up. That's the football player who refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest over how the country treats people of color. Miller's older brother Robert has been listening and says President Obama's defense of Kaepernick's right to protest really upset him.

ROBERT MILLER: I mean, look; Colin Kaepernick, for example - our president shouldn't be talking about a sports star. Our president should be talking about real issues. That's a prime example that comes to my mind.

BRADY: Those are views that might lose them business elsewhere, but the brothers say not here. Further south in Emmitsburg, Md., Chubby's Barbeque has a big Trump sign out front, too. Owner Tom Caulfield says he got a few complaints.

TOM CAULFIELD: That's the kind of person that will come in here, drive my staff crazy and tip them nothing. And no, I don't want them in here.

BRADY: Customer Martin Slouka says political signs don't bother him. He's here for the barbeque.

MARTIN SLOUKA: It's a, you know, First Amendment expression of speech. And they're a business owner, and they have a right to express their opinion as much as anybody else.

BRADY: Philadelphia's downtown Gayborhood is clearly Clinton territory. A gay bar has a campaign banner across the front. Nearby a restaurant has a sign that reads LGBT for Hillary. Virginia Strong is walking by and says most elections, she'd rather business owners kept their politics to themselves.

VIRGINIA STRONG: But this year, I like (laughter) a clear expression of where a business is standing.

BRADY: She's more likely to patronize a place that supports Clinton. In a Chinatown restaurant, owner Xu Lin has a Clinton sign in his window and is not shy talking about why.

XU LIN: Trump is a crazy, crazy person. He's a racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist person.

BRADY: And like the Trump supporters in rural Pennsylvania, Lin says there's little risk to his business saying so in a place where many others share the same view. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.