Salon stuck in sign squabble

Wendy Poseluzny had her business signage permit rejected because it’s considered “contrary to the amenities of the neighbourhood”. The word kooter is slang for vagina Poseluzny’s business is located close to an elementary school. Above, she holds signed petitions of support she’s received from clients, friends and family. (Photo by Omar Mosleh

A local Brazilian waxing shop has found itself in a hairy situation.

Kooter Couture, a beauty studio that specializes in waxing women’s pubic area, has had their sign permit refused by the city because the name contravenes their land-use bylaw.

Kooter is a slang term for vagina.

Although Kooter Couture has operated with its current business name and sign for about seven months, the city decided to refuse the permit after a resident complained about the name.

“One day the city called me and said they needed to meet me because I didn’t have a permit for a sign,” said Kooter Couture owner Wendy Poseluzny. “When I went, they said there was a complaint …  So I can keep the business name, but I can’t have the sign there.”

Poseluzny has appealed the city’s decision to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board, a process that generally takes about seven weeks. She is allowed to keep her sign up for that period. She has also distributed multiple petitions to gather support and has collected about 500 online signatures by the time of publication.

If the appeal fails, she’ll have to take the sign down, but can still operate her business.

“I’ll have a nameless building … At the end of the day the story is going to stop. People are going to forget about it, and if I don’t have a name in front of my store, it hurts my business,” Poseluzny said.

The city’s director of planning and development, Janel Smith-Duguid, said according to the city’s land-use bylaw, signs shall not contain “statements, words or pictures that are offensive or contrary to the amenities of the neighbourhood.”

“We struggled with that. Before rendering a decision (after the initial complaint) we notified adjacent property owners because we wanted to take their concerns into account,” Smith-Duguid said.

Kooter Couture is located on 98 Avenue, a stones throw from Fort Saskatchewan Elementary School and Fort Saskatchewan Christian School. When the city canvassed the local adjacent neighbours, the public school board also expressed their concerns with the business name.

The board said through a letter to the city that the sign, which also has a silhouette of a nude woman, was “too provocative” to be displayed near a school.

“The word (kooter) has an extremely vulgar connotation in its slang usage and is inappropriate for public signage displayed so close to a school,” reads the letter, signed by Elk Island Public Schools superintendant Mark Liguori.

“Second, the combination of the word “Kooter” next to an unclothed woman elicits a very sexual subtext, which is entirely unacceptable when you consider the adjacent landowners.”

Smith-Duguid said both the word kooter and the image factored into their decision, as well as the complaints.

“Ultimately we determined that yes, the application was in contravention of the land-use bylaw and therefore the application was refused,” she said.

Poseluzny says it doesn’t make sense for the city to issue her a business licence but then refuse her a sign permit. She believes they’ve effectively caved in to pressure from the school board.

“I feel the ball has been dropped by the city,” she said.  “They would have given me the permit if I had known right from the start … but because now the school board has complained, they obviously don’t want to challenge that.”

Smith-Duguid said it’s not the city’s role to regulate business names, but they do have to regulate what is publicly displayed.

“We don’t regulate business names. So you can call your business whatever you want. We do regulate what gets put on the sign,” she said.

Supporters of Kooter Couture rallied in support on the business’s Facebook page.

“I saw your business on the news and find the name quite cute … But if you’re coming under fire for your name choice, does “Hooters” need to revamp their name as well as I’m sure some have found that name “offensive!” said Christine Poulin.

Several posters said they didn’t know what kooter meant until they looked it up.

“The only thing offensive about this news story is the fact that a single resident is able to put a halt on another person’s career based on the possibility of assuming there are others that are “offended”,” said Ashlin Parx. “It’s a disgrace to Freedom of Speech laws that we’re suppose to be able to endure; as well as the liberation of women all over.”

Poseluzny is standing her ground and hopes her appeal will be fruitful. She said the support from clients, friends and family has been humbling.

“I’m not backing down. It’s not offensive, I’m 47, I have children and grandchildren, I’m no different than anyone else. I provide a service that women need,” she said.

If she is ultimately forced to continue running her business without a sign, it could have a negative impact on her operations.

“I’m a single person here, I don’t have employees, so it’s very frustrating for me that one or even 10 or even 20 people can have that much say in a business name that’s not offensive.”

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