As rain befell the Merricks early Friday morning, it was hard to discern much of anything between the gray skies and torrential downpours. But at the corner of Merrick Avenue and Sunrise Highway, a new structure illuminated the nearby firefighters’ memorial, displaying positive messages and business advertisements on a state-of-the-art screen.
On July 17, the Merrick Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil its latest project: a brick-laid, LED-lit community message board. The concept was a long held dream of past chamber president Randy Shotland, who now sits on the board of directors, to advertise local businesses with a 21st-century approach.
“For people who go by on Sunrise Highway and Merrick Avenue, it’s a way for them to see what we are and who we are,” Shotland said. “It was not something that people were on board with initially — some had said it would be an eyesore — but it’s the exact opposite. We get phone calls now about how beautiful it is.”
The $35,000 structure, which was installed on May 26, replaced the chamber’s plain, wooden sign that once stood in the same spot. Over the past several years, Shotland worked to find a masonry company to construct the sign, and identified local businesses and organizations to sponsor the project — the names of those are displayed on specially made placards located on the façade of the sign (see box). The screen’s LED lights were designed with enough pixels as to not create a glare, Shotland added, making the display visible to drivers at every corner of the nearby intersection.
“We’re trying to keep downtown alive, and we need everybody to help us by shopping local,” he said. “This sign says to the people that live here, ‘thank you for shopping locally.’”
Chamber President Femy Aziz made it her mission to bring the project to fruition when she was sworn in to the role two years ago. She said Shotland’s tenacity coupled with cooperation from the Town Clerk’s office helped make his dream a reality.
“Our [old] sign was dwindling down, and instead of [installing] just another sign, we said, ‘let’s get an interactive sign where we can actually post messages,’” Aziz said. Appearing on the screen in between business advertisings, for example, are graphics that encourage passersby to wear a mask, social distance, thank health care workers and shop local. It also displays the time, date and three-day weather forecast on a loop.
Advertisers pay $60 a month to publicize their business, but must be members of the Merrick Chamber of Commerce to do so. “We want to make the town inviting, so any income this generates will go back to beautifying the community,” Aziz said.
As supporting small businesses has become even more crucial amid the coronavirus pandemic, both Shotland and Aziz said the new sign could help highlight struggling merchants to a wide range of consumers. Since the structure located near Merrick’s Long Island Rail Road Station, it could attract residents who live outside the hamlet, Shotland said.
“The small shopkeepers are the ones who are the backbone of this country,” he added, “and even if we get 100 people to realize our merchants, it’s important.”
“Even if you have to do it online, keep your sales tax dollars here and try to patronize these businesses,” Aziz said.
The chamber’s new LED sign can be spotted near the firefighters’ memorial at the corner of Merrick Avenue and Sunrise Highway.