AUBURN — For Republic Jewelry owner Dan Cunliffe Jr., his holiday decorations are all about the spirit of Christmas.

“It’s Christmas lights; it’s for three weeks or whatever, and I don’t think of it as normal signage,” he said. “It’s just Christmas decorations.”

The displays spell out “Republic,” with a diamond shape in white wire-frame Christmas lights, bordered by deer and Christmas tree shapes.

Cunliffe said the three displays went up right after Thanksgiving. They are on Mount Auburn Avenue, opposite the intersection with Park Avenue; on the north side of Minot Avenue past Hatch Road in Auburn; and on Russell Street in Lewiston near Sabattus Street.

“I’ve had numbers of people come in and say they love them,” he said. “I have people comment on Facebook.”

But to officials in both cities, they may embody a different kind of holiday sentiment: that of driving customers to his business.

“It kind of rides that line between decorations and advertising,” said Zack Lehnert, code enforcement officer for the city of Auburn.

Lehnert said he’s asking Cunliffe to change the display, removing the word “Republic.”

“The word ‘Republic,’ that’s pretty clear-cut advertising and we’re asking that to come down,” Lehnert said. “The diamond is a decoration, similar to the deer or the dancing lights people put out. We don’t regulate that. But the advertising needs to be removed. And if he wants to leave it up on his property, he’ll need a sign permit.”

Lewiston City Planner David Hediger said he had not received any complaints about the signs but, he said, they may border on advertisements.

“I would say it’s off-premise advertising,” Hediger said. “I would say he could leave one part up, either the ‘Republic’ or the diamond. But not both.”

It shows just how tough sign regulations can be.

“It’s state law, that you can’t put up off-premise advertising,” Hediger said. “It’s why you don’t see McDonald’s billboards on the turnpike. But it’s probably not a free speech issue with respect to politics or religion or something like that.”

For now, Cunliffe said the decorations are staying put, and he plans to add to them.

“I wanted them to say, ‘Merry Christmas from Republic,’ but the ‘Merry Christmas’ part wasn’t ready yet,” he said.

He expects that addition to go up in the next few days.

“Basically, if I say ‘Merry Christmas from Republic,’ that should be OK,” Cunliffe said. “That should fall under a religious greeting, because I am promoting Christmas.”

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