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‘Witty hippies’ and ‘free parking’: Squamish Sign Wars take no prisoners

Squamish businesses fire shots at each other, all in good fun.
Sign wars
The sign wars have been heating up in Squamish since mid-May.

Just like so many wars, it was one born of jealousy. 

But it wasn't jealousy of land, money or resources that spurred this war.  

It was sign envy. And the object of that envy? The Sunny Chibas highway sign, which has been broadcasting kooky messages to the masses for almost a decade. 

When Zephyr Café owner Adrian Blachut heard his friend Dave Williams, owner of Squamish Adventure Inn and Hostel, bemoaning the hassle of updating his highway sign, he had an idea. He asked Williams if he could take over the sign until the summer season begins on June 1. Then he got to work thinking up what to put on it. 

"I set up some ropes, for the ability to change the sign a lot faster, and at that point it was like, well, I need someone to make fun of," Blachut said. "Sunny Chibas is right across the street, and far more clever and witty than my team is, so we figured it would be fun to poke fun at them."

And that they did, with the "Zephyr Sign Takeover" sign and first shots fired on May 12. Sunny Chibas retaliated with some barbs of their own. Then the Sea to Sky Gondola got roped into the mix, and slung some weed-tinted mud at 99 North Cannabis Store. 

No single person at the Gondola is taking credit for any of their messages, but marketing strategist Haley Hardy says it's been a whole team effort. 

"It's actually been a really good team-building exercise. We've been brainstorming them as a group and picking the best one and going from there," she said. "It's definitely been an opportunity to quickly engage with the community."

The fun has only ramped up since then, with jabs coming fast and aimed below the belt. But all in good fun, says Sunny Chibas owner Aaron Lawton. He and partner Diana Frederickson were happy for the chance to spice up their sign game, and impressed at the moxie of Zephyr staff. "Those guys at Zephyr are killing it," Lawton said. "We just thought they were a bunch of hippies over there, but they're actually a bunch of witty hippies."

With every new message that goes up, there is an accompanying flurry of Instagram posts and comments, taking the "sign war" from the real world to the digital one. "We would like to encourage any business that wants to get involved, anyway they can," said Blachut, although he admits the highway sign scene is mostly taken up by larger entities, who may or may not be finding themselves in the cross hairs soon. 

But for now, the Great Squamish Sign Wars of 2021 remains in the local small business sphere, as a way to connect in a time when networking is on hold.

"It's been so long since we've done anything as a group, any of us. It's like an event," said 99 North owner Bryan Raiser. Long-time marijuana advocate and former district council member, Raiser sees the "sign wars" as not only a chance to cheer up the COVID-weary small businesses in Squamish but as an impressive signal of marijuana destigmatizing as well.  

"It's very heart-melting. It's wonderful to see the normalization of the cannabis industry to the point where we can have joke sign wars," he said, referencing messages such as "Z [Zephyr], we'll get you higher than 99 North", which was flashed on the Gondola's high-profile highway sign. "It really shows how local-awesome Squamish is. Our town has always excelled at community fun grassroots-type events, and this totally fits in with that."