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City Peddles Its Used Signs, Streetlights to Help Fill Coffers


So you want to bring the streets of San Diego into the privacy of your own home?

Imagine a flashing traffic light to lead you to your kitchen. Or a parking meter to time your teen-agers' phone conversations. And, hey, wouldn't a fire hydrant for Fido simplify everyone's lives just a little?

Well, if it sounds outrageous, it's exactly what tourists and native San Diegans alike will find at the new San Diego City Store opening today in Horton Plaza.

Like a chunk of San Diego stuffed into a room, the store will peddle city paraphernalia ranging from authentic street signs to retired parking meters.

The city-operated business will also carry tourist favorites such as San Diego T-shirts, maps and pins.

But it's the used items lifted from the streets of San Diego--which officials hope will help a financially strained city stretch its budget--that have turned into consumer favorites.

So popular are the parking meters that, so far, more than 300 have been sold at the city's existing store at City Hall and a now-closed store in Mission Valley Center, said Don Telford, project manager of the San Diego City Store.

"We've exhausted our supply, so now we're searching to see if any other cities have them," Telford said.

At $40 a meter, Telford said, a growing waiting list has formed, including an order placed by an aspiring restaurateur for 20 meters to accompany the tables at his future eatery.

Then there are the street signs.

Favorites include bullet-riddled "No Shooting Within City Limits" signs selling for $30. Also in demand are the Black's Beach signs proclaiming "Swimsuits Optional Beyond This Point," priced at $20 each.

Personalized street signs can also be produced for $40 to $60, depending on the sign's size and message. Also for sale are a host of retired street signs ranging from $16 to $75.

A mere $325 will buy a shiny yellow fire hydrant, priced at a buck a pound. Another $100 will snag a blinking traffic light, and authentic manhole covers run for around $125.

Telford told the tale of one little boy who asked his mother to buy a manhole cover so the Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles could visit him in his bedroom.

Novelty aside, the store's true beauty lies in its ability to generate revenue for city programs that benefit San Diego youths.

Also, city departments that donate merchandise receive a portion of the profits to help pay for new equipment, Telford said. The streets division of the Department of General Services, for example, receives 35% of the profits generated from each sign sale.

The City Store concept was funded with $100,000 in start-up capital. That money has been recouped, Telford said recently, and the stores are ready to make profits.

The city opened its first store last November in Mission Valley Center just for the holiday season, but its success prompted officials in December to open a second store permanently at City Hall.

Hopes for the Horton Plaza store are centered on catching the high volume of shoppers and summer tourists who browse through the downtown plaza's shops. The new store, on the second level next to Zales Jewelers, will be open through Labor Day during regular mall hours.

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