Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: Behind one man’s quest to remove illegal signs from his neighborhood

Thanks to community resident and volunteer Chris Collier, placing illegal signs in the Berclair neighborhood has become foolish and ill-advised — a waste of time, even. In fact, Collier has made it his personal mission to patrol and clean the area, and rid it of illegally posted signs.

Every day, Collier starts his day on his trusty golf cart and makes his way down to Gaisman Park, where he spends several hours picking up trash, cutting the grass, and picking up sticks. Some days he removes up to 50 gallons of trash and debris. Cleaning the park can take up to three or four hours.

After that, he rolls down to Macon Road where signs of all kinds riddle the four way stops and intersections that make up the busy thoroughfare. Recently, he picked up more than 24 signs and even had to use a limb lopper to reach a sign that was nailed to a utility pole. It usually takes 20 minutes to survey and remove signs in this area. 

“When I pull down signs and post on Facebook, it creates a domino effect and others start grabbing signs and posting about it,” Collier says.

Thankfully, Collier is not alone in his efforts. There are many neighbors just like him helping to keep the area safe and clean.

“If we don’t stay on top of it then people won’t come around the park and the neighbors won’t care or take pride in the neighborhood,” Collier says. “It is chaos out there when it comes to signs.” 

He calls them organized litter and says most of them are predatory in nature.

Collier makes sure to take down the signs advertising shoddy insurance and poor housing, though he does leave the signs for garage sales and community-minded events. He does wish that people were more responsible and would come back and remove their signs when their sale or event is over.

Collier and other volunteers make it cost prohibitive for people who want to peddle their wares or push their political campaigns. Signs can run from $2.50 to $4 per sign, not to mention the labor to hang them up. 

Parks & Rec

And then there are the election signs, of course.

“It’s insulting that so many candidates seem to think that trashing our community with illegally placed signs is acceptable. I try to help and recycle the signs and donate metal stands to candidates I believe in,” says Collier. 

As for what’s deemed illegal, anything put in the right-of-way, next to the sidewalk, or anything affixed to a utility pole is prohibited. According to democratic member elect (State Executive Committeeman District 30) and social media specialist Allan Creasy, it’s important to contact the election commission for laws regarding election signs.

As for Collier himself, Creasy is a fan.

“If Chris didn’t make Gaisman Park his passion, I truly believe it would not have received the vast improvements it has in recent years,” says Creasy. “He’s the Leslie Knope of Berclair.”

“It is chaos out there when it comes to signs,” Collier says.In a Power Poll survey about political signs and their effectiveness, 27 percent of respondents say that they are unsightly blight and should be banned; 43 percent say they increase awareness and excitement about upcoming elections and should be celebrated; 15 percent say that in the age of social media they are antiquated and unnecessary; and 15 percent say they never thought about it.

According to a representative at Power Poll, the organization sends out their opinion surveys once a month. The Power Poll is not a scientific survey, but a glimpse into the minds of those who wield influence in Memphis. Members include public officials, CEOs, small business owners, community activists, restaurant owners and others. Power Poll is decidedly non-partisan.

Other studies like this one created by Politico go into more detail about the effectiveness of campaign yard signs. Alex Coppock, one of the co-authors of the study, told Politico the effects they found were in persuading voters to choose a certain candidate, and not on turnout.

As effective as they may be, if they’re not posted legally, Chris Collier is going to make sure the signs come down.

Domino effect

Collier is a lifelong Memphian and founder of Friends of Gaisman Park and Arboretum, which is currently undergoing a $12 million renovation expected to be complete by November 2023. He is retired from the hospitality business but loves his hobbies and doing what he can to keep his Berclair neighborhood clean and thriving.

Collier calls the illegally posted signs “organized litter.”“The doctor says it’s good to stay active and I love serving people,” Collier says. “It’s beneficial that we address this on a street level.”

This is where social media can provide an extra boost to Collier’s efforts.

“When I pull down signs and post on Facebook, it creates a domino effect and others start grabbing signs and posting about it,” he says. 

After more than ten years helping to improve Gaisman Park, and removing signs for the last three years, Collier shows no sign of slowing down. His neighbors appreciate his contributions and have joined the cause to keep the Berclair area beautiful. 

“Chris impresses me so much because he made the personal choice to keep his local park and neighborhood clean,” says The Works, Inc. President Roshun Austin. “He literally started to mow a city-owned and -operated park as a volunteer. Who does that? His commitment to being a good neighbor is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

While he mostly sticks to his golf cart these days, Collier does get out in the family car occasionally. Sometimes there’s a car full of signs when his wife, Jana Collier, goes out to grab groceries the next day. 

“My wife grabs signs as well. Any place we can grab signs, we do it. And I encourage others to join in the fight; it’s the right thing to do,” Collier says.

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I knew there were 20 signs out there.” 

Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters.