Game on

Super Mario inflatable can stay

Jesse Hollett
Posted 10/4/17

ORANGE PARK – A year after it began, the fight to save a 9-foot tall Super Mario inflatable is finished for an Orange Park business owner.

Scott Fisher, owner of retro and contemporary video …

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Game on

Super Mario inflatable can stay

Posted

ORANGE PARK – A year after it began, the fight to save a 9-foot tall Super Mario inflatable is finished for an Orange Park business owner.

Scott Fisher, owner of retro and contemporary video game shop Gone Broke Gaming, stands proudly in front of the iconic video game plumber inflatable displayed in front of his shop in a hard-to-spot shopping center along Kingsley Avenue. His yearlong fight to keep the inflatable led him all the way to the United States Middle District Court.

During a mediation Sept. 22, legal counsel for both the shop and the Town of Orange Park agreed to put away their disagreements and allow Fisher to keep his inflatable Mario up penalty-free until officials can change the sign code to provide for similar inflatables.

According to Fisher, both new and old customers alike have come into his shop to rejoice about his victory.

“There’s a lot of congratulations,” Fisher said. “They’re happy it’s back. We’ve actually had a few new customers come in because of the Mario. It’s already been successful having it up. Ever since Irma happened, we’ve been pretty slow – which is pretty normal – there were important things people needed to spend their money on. We put Mario up and we just had a blowup day that Friday. It was a huge day.”

Fisher and his pro-bono council from the Virginia-based law firm Institute for Justice fought what they saw as an unfair and unconstitutional prohibition on inflatables within the town’s land development regulations.

Fishers’ attorneys contended the prohibition violated the First Amendment.

“The First Amendment does not play favorites. It protects everyone’s right to speak out, including small businesses,” said IJ Senior Attorney Robert Former in an April press release that announced their intention to counsel Fisher through the litigation.

Last September, Town officials contended that the inflatable Mario did not meet the town’s sign ordinance codes and would fine Fisher $100 for every day the inflatable remained.

Fisher took the problem to the town’s special magistrate, and was denied an exception to the rule.

Previously, the town prohibited certain inflatables, as town code considers them portable signs. The town allowed holiday-themed inflatables however, and only banned displaying inflatables that relate specifically to a business.

The Institute for Justice filed the lawsuit against the town in early April.

Although town officials cannot comment on what was said or agreed upon during mediation specifically, Town Attorney Sam Garrison said litigating the issue any further is no longer among the town’s top concerns after the last month’s Hurricane Irma.

“There are a lot of really pressing needs in the town right now for resources, and in the hierarchy of priorities within the town, this just didn’t make sense to be something that we wanted to spend a lot of time, energy and resources fighting when ultimately we’re on the same team. We want this small business to succeed like we want every small business to succeed in the Town of Orange Park,” Garrison said.

Gone Broke Gaming held a sale on items storewide to celebrate Mario’s return. Anyone who takes a photo with the Mario and posts it to Facebook with a location tag would receive 10 percent off their purchase. That sale ended at the end of August.

Fisher said the next step is to shuffle around some fixtures in the store. Over the last year, he has knocked out a wall in his previously cramped storefront and added more storage space. That freed up an additional space to hold local video game tournaments and try-before-you-buy opportunities.

Wherever the future of his shop is, however, he said he would stick with just the one inflatable.

“I’m not going to go pop up six inflatables just to give the middle finger to the [town], that’s not what I want to do, I’m not here to make them mad, I’m here to grow and if I grow, the town makes more money…it’s a win-win,” Fisher said. “I want to the town to win – I want the town to have an awesome game store. I grew up here, I was born here and it’s home. I want my home to have a place like this. I want it to have the inflatable Mario.”

Fisher’s lawsuit did not ask for monetary damages. Still, the litigation drained town resources.

Town officials amended its 2016-2017 budget last month to include an extra $27,000 in legal fees from extra costs incurred during Fisher’s litigation and another lawsuit by the owners of the now-closed Parkway Inn.

Former Town Manager Jim Hanson shifted unused dollars budgeted for a separate fund to pay for the discrepancy.

As far as the work hours needed to edit the sign code is concerned, Garrison said town staff are currently looking to revise the sign code already to bring election sign rules in the town more in line with state regulations.

Garrison he expects the revision to provide for Fisher’s Mario inflatable and the revisions to election sign regulations to be packaged together and put before the council in the next few months.

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